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Thrashing, jail for homosexuals: A look at Qatar's LGBTQIA+ laws after man detained for wearing rainbow tee

A raging row has erupted after a US journalist covering the Football World Cup was detained for wearing a rainbow t-shirt to support the LGBTQIA+ community. What are Qatari laws about LGBTQIA+ and how has it treated the community? And what do the Qataris feel about them? Read on...  

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Football captains of seven European teams were set to wear rainbow armbands during Qatar’s World Cup to promote diversity and inclusion. However, after facing sanctions threat from FIFA, they were forced to abandon the One Love campaign gesture.

By Tirtho Banerjee: “Take off your (rainbow) t-shirt; it’s not allowed,” the Qatari security staff ordered a US sports journalist as he tried to enter the Al Rayyan Stadium where the US’ World Cup opener against Wales was about to begin on Tuesday.

Grant Wahl, the journalist, tweeted that he was detained for nearly half an hour (for wearing the rainbow t-shirt in support of the LGBTQIA+ community).

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The tweet evoked mixed responses, some backing Wahl, while others, mostly Qatari nationals, tutoring him to respect the law of the land and the country’s culture.

In a sharp reaction, Dr Nayef bin Nahar, an outspoken Qatari academic, said, “As a Qatari I’m proud of what happened. I don’t know when will the westerners realize that their values aren’t universal. There are other cultures with different values that should be equally respected. Let’s not forget that the West is not the spokesperson for humanity.”

“Respect the culture of the region and follow the rules as civilised person,” another Qatari national tweeted.

Earlier, football captains of seven European teams were set to wear rainbow armbands during Qatar’s World Cup to promote diversity and inclusion. However, after facing sanction threats from FIFA, they were forced to abandon the One Love campaign gesture.

ALSO READ | US journalist briefly detained at FIFA World Cup in Qatar over rainbow shirt

In a statement in 2020, Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk said: “This is an important message which suits the game of football: on the field everybody is equal and this should be the case in every place in society. With the OneLove band we express this message.”

WHAT DOES COUNTRY'S LAW SAY?

Qatar considers homosexual acts as immoral under Islamic Sharia law. They are illegal. The law in Qatar punishes a person with a prison sentence of one to three years for “inducing or seducing a male or a female in any way to commit illegal or immoral actions”.

Punishment can also reach up to seven years’ imprisonment and even death by stoning, apart from a hefty fine.

The law also calls for similar punishment for whoever is “instigating” or “seducing” a male to “commit sodomy”. Men and women can face action under the Penal Code 2004, which criminalises same-sex activity.

Since 2004, Article 296 of the current Penal Code (Law 11/2004) stipulates imprisonment between one and three years for sodomy between men.

The death penalty for same-gender sex is applicable only to homosexual Muslims because extramarital sex (regardless of gender) is punished by death and because same-gender couples cannot get married.

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In Qatar, there are cultural mores that see homosexuality and cross-dressing negatively. The Qatari government prohibits same-sex marriage and does not allow people in Qatar to campaign for LGBTQIA rights.

ALSO READ | 'Proud of what happened': Qatari scholar on detention of US journalist for wearing rainbow t-shirt

The sale of alcohol is also restricted in Qatar. Visitors cannot bring alcohol into the country, not even from the duty-free section at the airport. Beer is sold for $15 (Rs 1,224) per half-litre in some selective hotels. FIFA has banned drinking alcohol in stadiums during the World Cup.

TRACK RECORD

In October this year, Human Rights Watch said Qatar Preventive Security Department forces arbitrarily arrested lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and subjected them to ill-treatment in detention. Human Rights Watch documented six cases of severe and repeated beatings and five cases of sexual harassment in police custody between 2019 and 2022.

Security forces arrested people in public places based solely on their gender expression and unlawfully searched their phones. As a requirement for their release, security forces mandated that transgender women detainees attend conversion therapy sessions at a government-sponsored “behavioral healthcare” centre, a report pointed out.

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In 2016, Instagram star King Luxy from Poland was held in Qatar for allegedly being gay. He reportedly had to spend two months in custody before being set free.

In 1998, an American citizen visiting Qatar was reportedly sentenced to six months in prison and 90 lashes for homosexual activity.

In November 2008, British singer George Michael gave a scintillating performance at a concert in Qatar, making him the first openly gay musician to do so in the Gulf country.

ALSO READ | Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk to wear One Love armband at World Cup despite FIFA ruling

‘IT’S HARAM: RESPECT OUR CULTURE’

Some time back, a Qatar government official had said that the World Cup host was an inclusive country. “Everyone is welcome in Qatar.” He added: “Our track record has shown that we have warmly welcomed all people regardless of background.” However, Qatar 2022 chief executive Nasser al Khater categorically stated that the government will not change its laws on homosexuality and asked visitors to “respect our culture”.

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A statement by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), which is responsible for planning for the World Cup, said it was committed to “an inclusive and discriminatory-free” World Cup. It added, “But we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon. We simply ask people to respect our culture.”

During an interview in September, World Cup ambassador and former footballer Khalid Salman said homosexuality was “damage in the mind”.

Ahead of the tournament, he told German public broadcaster ZDF that being gay is “haram” (forbidden).

Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010. Interestingly, in 2016, FIFA adopted the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The principles require it to “avoid infringing on the human rights of others and address adverse human rights impacts”.