Qatar is a constitutional monarchy in which Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani exercises full executive power. The constitution provides for hereditary rule by men in the amir’s branch of the Al Thani family. The most recent elections were in 2019 for the Central Municipal Council, an advisory and consultative body. Observers considered these elections free and fair. All cabinet members, including the prime minister, are appointed by the amir.
The national police and Ministry of Interior forces maintain internal security that addresses, among other matters, terrorism, cyberattacks, and espionage. The national police oversee general law enforcement. The army is responsible for external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Security forces infrequently committed abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: restrictions on free expression, including criminalization of libel; restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including prohibitions on political parties and labor unions; restrictions on migrant workers’ freedom of movement; limits on the ability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; and reports of forced labor.
The government took limited steps to prosecute those suspected of committing human rights abuses. The government took steps to address forced labor.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.
The government interprets sharia as allowing corporal punishment for certain criminal offenses, including court-ordered flogging in cases of alcohol consumption and extramarital sex by Muslims. Courts typically reduced sentences to imprisonment or a fine. The Ministry of Interior reported 375 sentences that resulted in flogging as a punishment in 2019. In May authorities executed a death sentence by a firing squad against a Nepalese expatriate who was accused of murdering a Qatari citizen in 2017. The court upheld the sentence after the family of the victim had refused the blood money in return for degrading the sentence.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions generally met international standards. In 2019 the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) conducted 96 field visits to detention and interrogation facilities across the country.
Physical Conditions: In May social media users claimed the spread of COVID-19 among prisoners had created unrest in the Central Prison. Social media users circulated unconfirmed leaked photographs and audio recordings from inside the prison, claiming that there were clashes between prisoners and guards and prisoner strikes. The government denied the allegations. The NHRC conducted a number of visits to detention centers and sent a list of recommendations to the government, including accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), establishing an independent commission within the judiciary to investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment, and replacing corporal punishment with voluntary social work.
Administration: Authorities conducted investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment. No statute allows ombudsmen to advocate for prisoners and detainees.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers and international bodies to all facilities except the state security prison. The government routinely provided foreign diplomats access to state security prisoners. NHRC representatives conducted regular visits to all facilities. In 2019 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Doha at the invitation of the government. Following the visit, the working group stated “there was an urgent need for a paradigm shift to guarantee the right of every individual to personal liberty, as well as independent and effective judicial control over detention.”
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government usually observed these requirements.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reported in 2019 that the detainee tracking system did not allow police to determine the number and status of detainees held in any given institution. At some police stations, the register of persons in police custody did not state the date and time when individuals were taken into custody and transferred to the public prosecution. This lack of record keeping made it difficult to determine how long those detainees had been held. The UN Working Group invited authorities to address “shortcomings” in the detainee registers to prevent arbitrary detention.
In October, Amnesty International published a report detailing the 2018 arrest and detention for five months without charge of Mohamed al-Sulaiti and also posted on Twitter comments that criticized the government for imposing a travel ban on al-Sulaiti. In August, Amnesty International published a report regarding four persons, including al-Sulaiti, who were put under a travel ban without trial. Amnesty International alleged that in all of these cases authorities’ actions were conducted purely administratively, without affording any legal recourse by which the affected individuals could contest or appeal the decisions or present their claims to an independent reviewer.
In 2019 the NHRC reported receiving seven complaints of arbitrary detention and added that after examining the cases and contacting the authorities concerned, all detainees were released.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires that persons be apprehended with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official, be charged within 24 hours, and be brought before a court without undue delay.
The law provides procedures that permit detention without charge for as long as 15 days, renewable for up to six months. The law permits an additional six months’ detention without charge with the approval of the prime minister, who may extend the detention indefinitely in cases of threats to national security. The law allows the Ministry of Interior to detain persons suspected of crimes related to national security, honor, or impudence; in these cases persons detained are generally released within 24 hours or brought before a court within three days of detention. Decisions under this law are subject to appeal to the prime minister only. The law permits the prime minister to adjudicate complaints involving such detentions. The law permits a second six-month period of detention with approval from the criminal court, which may extend a detention indefinitely with review every six months. The state security service may arrest and detain suspects for up to 30 days without referring them to the public prosecutor.
In most cases a judge may order a suspect released, remanded to custody to await trial, held in pretrial detention pending investigation, or released on bail. Although suspects are entitled to bail (except in cases of violent crimes), allowing release on bail was infrequent.
Authorities were more likely to grant bail to citizens than to noncitizens. Noncitizens charged with minor crimes may be released to their employer (or a family member for minors), although they may not leave the country until the case is resolved.
By law in non-security-related cases, the accused is entitled to legal representation throughout the process and prompt access to family members. There are provisions for government-funded legal counsel for indigent prisoners in criminal cases, and authorities generally honored this requirement. There were no new reported cases invoking either the Protection of Society Law or the Combating Terrorism Law.
By law all suspects except those detained under the Protection of Society Law or the Combating Terrorism Law must be presented before the public prosecutor within 24 hours of arrest. If the public prosecutor finds sufficient evidence for further investigation, authorities may detain a suspect for up to 15 days with the approval of a judge, renewable for similar periods not to exceed 45 days, before charges must be filed in the courts. Judges may also extend pretrial detention for one month, renewable for one-month periods not to exceed one-half the maximum punishment for the accused crime. Authorities typically followed these procedures differently for citizens than for noncitizens. The law does not specify a time limit on preventive detention, which the NHRC recommended in 2019 be changed.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the amir, based on recommended selections from the Supreme Judicial Council, appoints all judges, who retain their positions at his discretion. Foreign detainees had access to the legal system, although some complained of opaque legal procedures and complications, mostly stemming from language barriers. Foreign nationals did not uniformly receive translations of legal proceedings, although interpretation was generally provided within courtrooms. Dispute settlement committees were established in 2018 to increase the efficiency and speed of decision making in the overloaded labor courts and included court translators who were present throughout all hearings. The establishment of these committees, however, did not shorten the time from complaint to resolution. Some employers filed successful deportation requests against employees who had lawsuits pending against them, thus denying those employees the right to a fair trial. In May the Supreme Judicial Council established a branch of the Enforcement Court at the worker dispute settlement committees to facilitate the process of implementing the committees’ verdicts. The enforcement cycle of verdicts continued to last for months.
The law provides for the right to a fair public trial for all residents, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.
The law provides defendants the presumption of innocence, and authorities generally inform defendants promptly of the charges brought against them, except for suspects held under the Protection of Society Law and Combating Terrorism Law. The defendant may be present at his or her trial.
Defendants are entitled to choose their legal representation or accept it at public expense throughout the pretrial and trial process. In matters involving family law, Shia and Sunni judges may apply their interpretations of sharia for their religious groups. The law approves implementing the Shiite interpretation of sharia upon the agreement and request of the parties involved in the dispute. In family law matters, a woman’s testimony is deemed one-half of a man’s testimony.
Defendants usually have free language interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, while court documents are provided only in Arabic. Defendants have access to government-held evidence, have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence, and have the opportunity to give a statement at the end of their trial. Defendants have the right to appeal a decision within 15 days; use of the appellate process was common.
The Court of Cassation requires a fee to initiate the appeals process. In some cases courts waived fees if an appellant demonstrated financial hardship.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no substantiated reports of political prisoners or detainees.
On September 22, the wife of Sheikh Talal bin Abdelazeez Al Thani, grandson of former amir of Qatar Sheikh Ahmad Al Thani (1960-72), submitted a complaint to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, requesting the release of her husband from prison. He had been serving a 22-year-imprisonment sentence since 2013 on charges of financial violations. Sheikh Talal’s wife, who deemed the trial politically motivated, claimed her husband had been in incommunicado detention and was suffering from severe medical conditions he developed in prison.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Civil remedies are available for those seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations, but no cases were reported during the year. The law specifies circumstances that necessitate a judge’s removal from a case for conflict of interest, and authorities generally observed this provision. Individuals and organizations may not appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and the criminal procedures code prohibit such actions. Police and security forces, however, reportedly monitored telephone calls, emails, and social media posts.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not fully respect these rights.
In-country Movement: Restrictions on in-country movement for citizens concerned sensitive military, oil, and industrial installations. Although there was less emphasis on setting and enforcing “family-only” times at entertainment areas in Doha, several local malls and markets continued to restrict access to certain areas to foreign workers on weekends and those dressed “immodestly.”
As part of the government’s COVID-19 countermeasures, approximately 20 square miles of the Industrial Zone, home to thousands of migrant workers, was completely locked down for two months from March to May. Human rights groups expressed concerns regarding the well-being of workers who were banned from leaving the area, including individuals showing no symptoms of COVID-19, despite reports of limited availability of food and supplies.
Foreign Travel: The government prevented the travel of its citizens only when they were involved in pending court cases. Despite partial exit permit reform, domestic workers were required to obtain permission from employers to exit the country. In 2018 authorities abolished exit permit requirements for 95 percent of the workforce in the private sector, with some exceptions including domestic workers and government employees. Employers may request exit permits for the remaining 5 percent of their workforce not covered by the 2018 law but must provide an explanation to the government justifying why an employee should retain an exit permit restriction. In January the government extended the categories of individuals not required to receive exit permit permission to include government employees and domestic workers. The government retained the right to request that up to 5 percent of private-sector employees and 5 percent of expatriate public-sector employees obtain permits prior to departure. The Ministry of Interior, however, asked domestic workers to notify employers 72 hours before departure from the country. According to the Ministry of Interior, the Exit Permit Grievances Committee received 1,053 complaints from workers who were denied exit permits by their employers. The committee approved 1,039, rejected 10, and archived the remainder.
The law prohibits employers from withholding workers’ passports and penalizes employers who do so, but noncitizen community leaders and officials from labor-exporting countries stated that passport confiscation remained a widespread problem with insufficient enforcement of penalties. The Ministry of Interior fined only six individuals in 11 passport-confiscation cases during the year.
Citizenship: The law allows for the revocation of citizenship. According to statistics of the Ministry of Interior, there were 10 cases of citizenship revocations in 2019. The ministry did not clarify the reason for the revocations.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to assist refugees in other countries.
Access to Asylum: In 2018 the government passed legislation to grant political asylum status to asylum seekers, although there were no reports or official announcements confirming that anyone had received asylum through this legislation, and there were examples annually that violated the spirit of the law. The law stipulates the creation of a specialized committee within the Ministry of Interior to handle requests from asylum seekers. Once granted political asylum, the individual and his or her family are entitled to a range of free services provided by the government, including travel documents, jobs, monthly allowances, medical and educational services, and housing. Previously the government accepted such individuals as “guests” on a temporary basis. The government legally classified the small number of persons granted residence on humanitarian grounds as visitors.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition office in Doha reported approximately 60,000 Syrians were living in Doha, of whom approximately 20,000 came to Doha after the start of the civil war and had been granted repeated extensions to their residency status to allow them to remain in the country. The government provided housing and education to these de facto refugees.
g. Stateless Persons
Citizenship derives solely from the father, and women cannot transmit citizenship to their noncitizen spouse or children. A woman must obtain permission from authorities before marrying a foreign national but does not lose citizenship upon such a marriage. Generally the government did not approve marriage requests between Qatari women and stateless men.
The law allows long-term residents to apply for citizenship after living in the country for 25 consecutive years, but the government rarely approved citizenship applications, which were by law capped at 50 per year. Restrictions and inconsistent application of the law prevented stateless persons from acquiring citizenship. Permanent residents have the right to own property, open businesses without local partners, and receive free education and health services.
According to official statistics provided by the Ministry of Interior, there were 2,461 Bidoon–stateless Arabs residing in the country–although population statistics remained the same since 2018. Official documents do not recognize the term Bidoon but rather “individuals with temporary Qatari identification documents.” Bidoon are a stateless minority in the Gulf states, born in the country, whose families were not included as citizens at the time of the country’s independence or shortly thereafter. The Bidoon, who are afforded residency with the sponsorship of a Qatari resident, were able to register for public services such as education and health care. Bidoon, however, are unable to own property in the country and cannot travel without a visa to other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Researchers from international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and international unions such as Building and Wood Workers’ International and the International Trade Union Confederation continued to visit and report on the country without interference from authorities. The government was often responsive to requests for meetings and jointly participated in public events hosted by human rights groups, including on sensitive topics such as labor rights.
Several quasi-governmental organizations were under a single entity, Qatar Foundation, which was under the leadership of Sheikha Hind Al Thani, the sister of the amir. These organizations cooperated with the government, rarely criticized it, and did not engage in political activity. Some international NGOs had offices in the country and focused on labor rights with the permission of the government.
In November 2019 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention carried out its first official visit to the country to assess the situation regarding deprivation of liberty. Following the visit, the group stated, “Existing laws that allow prolonged administrative detention without judicial control and due process guarantees ought to be abolished, as these place individuals outside the protection of the law.” The Working Group called on authorities to “immediately repeal the Protection of Community Law, the State Security Law, and the Law on Combating Terrorism.”
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Interior and the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are mandated to observe, report, and handle human rights issues. The NHRC is mandated by the cabinet to issue an annual report pertaining to the human rights conditions in the country. The NHRC provided mild criticism of abuses and conducted its own investigations into human rights violations. A law regulating the work of the NHRC granted the committee “full independence” in practicing its activities and providing immunity to the committee’s members. The NHRC typically handled petitions by liaising with government institutions to ensure a timely resolution to disputes.