Protests in Qatar Spark Free Speech Concerns

A human rights group on Friday called on Qatari authorities to respect citizens’ right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly amid concerns over “repressive policies” against protestors who gather to oppose new and discriminatory election laws announced at the end of last month.

Qatar GCHRThe Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) called on authorities to protect public freedoms, and called on the government to amend the new laws and ensure that they “do not contain discriminatory articles of any citizen of Qatar, or marginalize different groups of society, especially women, migrant workers and resident migrants, as well as the Bedoon community.” (Photo: GCHR)The new laws, which have sparked protests across the country, annul the right of different groups to vote or be represented in the Shura Council - the state’s legislative body.

They stipulate that, among other things, only those with Qatari nationality since birth, or naturalized citizens with a Qatari grandfather who was born in the Gulf state, will have the right to vote in the upcoming October elections. Additionally, only those whose original nationality is Qatari, can run in the elections.

The new laws do not take into account the large number of migrant workers and immigrants, the stateless Bidoon community, or nomadic tribes who did not originally have Qatari nationality but are now settled there.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) called on authorities to protect public freedoms, and called on the government to amend the new laws and ensure that they “do not contain discriminatory articles of any citizen of Qatar, or marginalize different groups of society, especially women, migrant workers and resident migrants, as well as the Bedoon community.”

The statement also cited reports of security forces storming the homes of protestors and targeted arrests of citizens “only because they express their opinions.”

On Sunday, Qatar’s Ministry of Interior said in a Facebook post that seven individuals had been referred for prosecution for “using social media to spread false news and incite racial and tribal strife,” regarding the protests.

“GCHR calls on the Qatari government to release all detainees in connection with the recent peaceful protests, and to protect public freedoms, especially freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly,” the regional human rights watchdog said.