Qaṭar: Authorities must respect the rights of citizens to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly

13.08.21

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) expresses its concern about the repressive policies pursued by the authorities in Qatar against citizens who participate in peaceful protests taking place in the country, or those who express their opinions through social media networks, related to the ratification of three unfair laws on the Shura Council elections, taking place in October 2021.

On 08 August 2021, the Qatari Ministry of Interior announced on its Facebook page that, "The competent authorities in the Ministry of Interior referred 7 persons to the Public Prosecution after they used social media to spread false news and incite racial and tribal strife," in connection with protests over new laws. The Ministry added, "After the concerned authorities at the Ministry of Interior found out about the content published on their accounts and their links to the subject of the accusation [protesting the laws], they were referred to the Public Prosecution to complete the appropriate procedures."

On 29 July 2021, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, ratified Law No. (6) of 2021 regarding the procedures for the election of the Shura Council. The law, which includes 58 articles, limits in Article 2 the right to vote to those who have original Qatari nationality, or have acquired Qatari nationality, provided that their grandfather is Qatari and born in the State of Qatar. Article 10 sets a strict condition for those who are entitled to run for membership in the Shura Council, which is that their original nationality must be Qatari.

Thus, during Shura Council elections, other naturalised Qataris will not be allowed to be candidates or vote. The law also does not refer to migrant workers and immigrants permanently residing in the country, nor to Qatar's Bedoon community, numbering several thousand, who do not enjoy their full civil or human rights. This law nullifies the right of all these groups to vote or have a representative in the Shura Council.

Also on 29 July 2021, the Emir of Qatar ratified Law No. (7) of 2021 regarding the formation of the Shura Council and its competencies. Article 2 states that it consists of 45 members, 30 of whom are elected by direct vote, and 15 of whom are appointed by the Emir from ministers or others of his choosing.

Law No. (7) guarantees the government controls the appointment of 15 ministers or others who support the government or adopt its policies as non-elected members chosen by the Emir of the country.

On the same day, the Emir issued Decree No. (37) of 2021 defining the 30 electoral districts of the Shura Council and defining the regions of each, where one member is elected for each electoral district. Electoral districts are determined on a tribal basis, which will work with the other two laws to marginalise women and those with competence and experience, in addition to perpetuating discrimination against other components of society, whom the legislation denies the rights mentioned.

The promulgation of these laws was followed by massive protests, especially by members of the Al-Murrah tribe, who were denied the right to run for the Shura Council, while some of them would only have the right to vote. Reliable local reports confirmed the arrest on 10 August 2021 of lawyer Dr. Hazza bin Ali Al-Marri, who is a prominent member of this tribe. He appeared in several recordings, including one in which he made an appeal to the Emir of Qatar, saying, "We will demand our rights and dignity in this homeland and from within the homeland, even if death is written for us in prisons." In another recording, he was shown addressing the crowds of the demonstrators from his tribe, calling them to be steadfast and demanding the government release the detainees.

Other reports mentioned that the security forces stormed the homes of some members of the Al-Murrah tribe, adding that the number of detainees to date has reached ten protesters.

The protesters are demanding that the Shura Council elections law be overturned, in addition to calling on the authorities to guarantee freedom of expression and social justice among all citizens, in addition to the release of all detainees. There are reports of a major demonstration planned for today, and further protests in the following days.

GCHR deplores that the security authorities in Qatar target citizens only because they express their opinions in violation of the three laws issued by the Emir of the country related to the Shura Council and their organisation of peaceful gatherings. 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 Qatari government should amend the three laws to ensure that they do not contain discriminatory articles of any citizen of Qatar, or marginalise different groups of society, especially women, migrant workers and resident migrants, as well as the Bedoon community.