Qaṭar: Migrant worker rights defender Malcolm Bidali should be freed

04.06.21

Update: Qatar: On 02 June 2021, migrant worker rights defender and blogger Malcolm Bidali has been released but still faces trumped-up charges related to his peaceful and legitimate human rights activism.

2021-06-01

On the night of 04 to 05 May 2021, officials from Qatar’s State Security Bureau arrested migrant worker rights defender and blogger Malcolm Bidali. He was taken to an unknown destination, and the authorities did not provide any information about his whereabouts. On 12 May 2021, the authorities confirmed his detention but refused to disclose his whereabouts.

Bidali, a 28-year-old Kenyan, works as a security guard, where his daily work hours sometimes exceed 12 hours.  He moved to Qatar in 2016.

On 31 May 2020, Bidali began writing a series of articles under the pseudonym "Noah" for the Migrant Rights Organisation, established in 2007, which is based in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and works to defend the rights of migrant workers.

His first article was entitled, "Home Is Where Your Employer Sees Fit." He wrote about the poor housing conditions for migrant workers in Qatar, where six or eight people were crammed into a 4 x 4 meter room. He added an update to his article in which he mentioned, "And now, I can verify that I have personally seen ten people in one room; the room next to ours. And as if that’s not enough, the front door downstairs has been shut, thus converting the living room into a sleeping area, which now holds six double-decker beds. That’s twelve people living in the living room. Twelve! And there are four bathrooms for the 54 of us."

His article and other articles contain details of his personal experiences as a migrant worker in Qatar and forthright criticisms of the failure of the competent authorities to protect the civil and human rights of migrant workers employed in the country.

On his Twitter account, which also uses his pseudonym "Noah", he defends the rights of migrant workers and also includes his documentation of violations against them.

More recently, he used the letters of the English alphabet instead of using the explicit names of several migrant workers to write several tweets on his Twitter account describing the difficulties they face in carrying out their difficult daily work.

On 04 May 2021, he wrote about worker "X" who does not have a room key because he is not allowed to lock its door so that whomever can enter his room and tamper with his personal belongings. He wrote also about worker "W" who, despite the passage of three months, has not yet received a copy of his work contract. On 30 April 2021, he wrote about worker "T", whose mental health has deteriorated after the Covid-19 pandemic, and who did not know where to go to seek help nor if his request would be taken seriously. He also talked about worker "S", who works between 8 to 12 hours and does not receive a wage for the extra hours. All he receives is 1250 Qatari riyals (around USD$343) per month, which is a very low salary compared to what Qataris and Westerners earn. 

In an appeal issued on 28 May 2021, Amnesty International confirmed that Bidali may be a victim of a phising attack that took place on 26 April 2021, through a suspicious link sent to him through his Twitter account, which apparently led to his identity and address being revealed and his arrest later.

Bidali told his mother, in their only phone call on 20 May 2021, that he had been placed in solitary confinement since his arrest. Despite his family's continuous attempts, it was not possible for them to speak with him again, and he had no access to a lawyer.

On 29 May 2021, the Qatari Government Communication Office said in a statement on the case that the Public Prosecution had interrogated him and charged him with receiving funds from a foreign party for the purpose of spreading misleading information, confirming that he would be subject to trial. If found guilty under Article 120 of Qatar's penal code, Bidali could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 15,000 Qatari Riyals (approx. USD$ 4000).

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) denounces in the strongest terms the arrest of defender of migrant workers' rights and blogger, Malcolm Bidali, and considers his case a new addition to a common pattern of violations practiced by the State Security Bureau against citizens and residents, including migrant workers.

GCHR calls on the government of Qatar to immediately release Bidali, drop all charges against him, and protect public freedoms, including freedom of expression, on and off the Internet. The Qatari authorities, hoping for a successful organisation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, should first fulfill all of their human rights obligations and in particular protect the civil and human rights of
foreign workers.