Qatar: UN concerned about enforced disappearance and arbitrary arrest of advocate for migrant workers’ rights
This is also available in: العربية (Arabic) متوفر ايضا باللغة
Geneva, 27 September 2021
Translated and edited by: The Committee for Justice
UN experts expressed their concerns about the arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and charges against the Kenyan migrant worker, Malcolm Bidali (28-year-old), who was arrested in Qatar for highlighting the country’s migrant worker rights issues in his blog, including working hours, wages, accommodation and workplace conditions.
Circumstances of the arrest and prosecution of Bidali:
On the circumstances of his detention, the experts explained in their memo, sent to the Qatari government on July 27, 2021, that on April 26, 2021, Bidali gave an online presentation to international civil society groups on the situation of migrant workers in Qatar, drawing on his experience working in the country. A few days later, on May 4, 2021, he was arrested from his residence in Doha by the Qatari security services and taken to an unknown location.
The experts added that Bidali’s fate and whereabouts remained unknown between May 4 and 12, 2021, as he was held incommunicado, in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, without obtaining any legal representation, until May 20, 2021, when he was given consular access and allowed to hold a ten-minute phone call with his mother. The Qatari authorities acknowledged his presence in detention for the first time on May 12, 2021, without revealing his whereabouts.
A statement issued by the Government Communications Office on May 29, 2021, confirmed that Bidali is officially accused of receiving payments from a foreign agent to create and distribute misleading information within the country and that his case has been transferred to the Public Prosecution. On May 31, 2021, he was released after he signed a document in Arabic without knowing its exact content, and the human rights defender was also denied access to legal representation during 27 days in custody.
UN fears of undermining freedom of expression in Qatar:
In their memorandum, the experts expressed their grave concern over reports of Bidali’s arrest and alleged incommunicado detention, which, according to their description, may amount to enforced disappearance.
The experts also expressed their concerns about the alleged failure to ensure Bidali’s access to legal representation of his choice and consular protection during his detention and the charge against him, expressing their grave concern that these measures appear to have been carried out in retaliation for Bidali’s legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and his peaceful work to promote human rights, in particular the rights of migrant workers in Qatar.
UN demands from the Qatari government:
The experts called on the Qatari government to provide information on the legal and factual basis for the detention of Bidali and the charge against him, and the extent to which his detention and prosecution comply with international rules and standards.
The experts also called on Qatar to provide any information on any investigation that was conducted into the enforced disappearance of Bidali from 4 to 12 May 2021, and the remedies provided to him, explaining the reasons for restricting his access to legal representation and consular assistance since his detention and stating whether consular officials of the Government of Kenya in Qatar have been duly informed of his arrest.
The experts also requested an indication of the concrete steps that have been taken to ensure respect for the right to freedom of expression and to work to promote and protect the rights of migrant workers in Qatar.
The Qatari government’s response to the memorandum:
The Qatari permanent diplomatic mission in Geneva clarified that on July 14, 2021, the Court of First Instance in Qatar found Bidali guilty of the charges against him, citing Article 6 of Law No. 14 of 2014, and the sufficiency of the evidence presented. The court ordered him to pay a fine of 25,000 Qatari riyals ($6,849) and he had the opportunity to appeal. However it was his personal decision to pay the fine, not pursue further legal proceedings, and he paid it and the case was closed and he left Qatar.
In its response, the Qatari government also confirmed that Badali was arrested by order of the Public Prosecutor based on official charges against him, and throughout the period of his arrest, his basic rights were preserved and he was not subjected to physical or psychological harm. The Kenyan ambassador to the State of Qatar visited him, and the National Committee for Human Rights. According to the Qatari government, he was in contact with his family during this period and the office of the International Labor Organization.
The Qatari mission added that during the visit of the National Human Rights Committee to Bidali, he was offered to appoint a lawyer and provide him with legal advice, and during his trial, he had the right to defend himself and present his testimony, which confirms that the trial was fair and the conditions of detention were in line with Qatari and international human rights.
At the conclusion of its response, the mission affirmed that Qatar has taken and is taking several steps and has introduced reforms to promote and protect workers’ rights in the country. These measures include substantial amendments to the system of labour laws and related procedures and policies (for example: improving the wage system by introducing a non-discriminatory minimum wage, improving occupational safety, establishing a health inspection system, and implementing a contractual system to replace sponsorship).