Qatari police have stopped a one-man protest by British LGBT activist Peter Tatchell outside the national museum of the Gulf Arab state which hosts football’s World Cup next month.
Mr Tatchell, who had staged a similar protest ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, stood for more than an hour wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “#Qatarantigay” and holding a placard that read “Qatar arrests and subjects LGBTs to conversion”.
Two uniformed police officers and three plainclothes officials arrived at the scene. They folded up his placard and took photos of Mr Tatchell’s passport and other papers, and those of a man accompanying him.
Police left after shaking hands with Mr Tatchell, who remained on the footpath.
Homosexuality is illegal in the conservative Muslim country, and some footballers have raised concerns over the rights of fans travelling for the event, especially LGBT+ individuals and women, whom rights groups say Qatari laws discriminate against.
Organisers of the World Cup in Qatar, which starts on 20 November and is the first to be held in a Middle Eastern nation, say that everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or background, is welcome, while also warning against public displays of affection.
Qatar’s Government Communication Office said the man was neither arrested nor detained and was simply told “cordially and professionally” to move.
“Rumours on social media that a representative from the Peter Tatchell Foundation has been arrested in Qatar are completely false and without merit,” it said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch yesterday said security forces in Qatar arbitrarily arrested and abused LGBT Qataris as recently as last month.
A Qatari official said in a statement that HRW’s allegations “contain information that is categorically and unequivocally false”.
Qatar expects 1.2 million visitors during the tournament, creating an unprecedented logistical and policing challenge for the tiny state.
Qatar has been hit by an “unprecedented campaign” of criticism over the football World Cup, its ruler said today, lashing out at “double standards” in a fierce rebuttal just weeks before the tournament starts.
The energy-rich and conservative Islamic Gulf state has spent tens of billions of dollars on hosting the first World Cup on Arab soil but has faced mounting attacks over its human rights record.
‘Qatar is a victim of fabrications’
In a rare public airing of frustration, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said Qatar was the victim of “fabrications”, hinting at hidden motives behind the criticism.
“Since we won the honour of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has faced,” he said in a speech to the country’s legislative council.
FIFA awarded the World Cup to an Arab country for the first time after a contentious bidding process in 2010.
Qatar has since faced constant scrutiny over its treatment of foreign workers as well as LGBTQ and women’s rights.
The emir said Qatar had initially accepted negative commentary “in good faith” and “even considered that some criticism was positive and useful, helping us to develop aspects that need to be developed.
“But it soon became clear to us that the campaign continues, expands and includes fabrications and double standards, until it reached an amount of ferocity that made many wonder, unfortunately, about the real reasons and motives behind this campaign,” he said.
The 29-day World Cup is expected to bring more than one million foreign fans to Qatar, a small, gas-rich peninsula of less than three million people.
The emir said the event was a chance for Qatar to show “who we are, not only in terms of the strength of our economy and institutions, but also in terms of our civilisational identity.
“This is a great test for a country the size of Qatar that impresses the whole world with what it has already achieved.”