The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has been stopped in Qatar while staging a protest against the Gulf state’s criminalisation of LGBT+ people.
Tatchell’s protest outside the National Museum of Qatar in the capital, Doha, comes less than a month before the start of the Fifa World Cup, which is expected to attract 1.2 million visitors from around the world.
Reuters reported two uniformed police officers and three plain clothes officials arrived at the scene. They folded up his placard and took photos of Tatchell’s passport and other papers, and those of a man accompanying him. Police left after shaking hands with Tatchell, who remained on the sidewalk.
The veteran campaigner, whose whereabouts are unknown, was holding a placard that read: “Qatar arrests, jails & subjects LGBTs to ‘conversion’ #QatarAntiGay.”
The Peter Tatchell Foundation said this was the first LGBT+ protest in Qatar or any Gulf state.
The incident adds to mounting pressure on Qatar over its treatment of the LGBT+ community and migrant workers, as well as other human rights concerns.
Qatari law criminalises both male and female homosexuality, with sentences of one to three years for adults convicted of consensual gay or lesbian sex.
Speaking from Qatar shortly before his protest, Tatchell said: “There can be no normal sporting relations with an abnormal regime like Qatar. It is a homophobic, sexist and racist dictatorship.
“Qatar cannot be allowed to sportswash its reputation. It is using the World Cup to enhance its international image. We must ensure that the tyrant regime in Doha does not score a PR victory.
“I did this protest to shine a light on Qatar’s human rights abuses against LGBT+ people, women, migrant workers and liberal Qataris. I am supporting their brave battle against tyranny.
“LGBT+ Qataris face police harassment, online entrapment, ‘honour’ killing, arrest, three years’ jail and potentially the death penalty. Qatar has secret gay conversion centres where LGBT+ people can be detained and subjected to abusive attempts to turn them straight.”
Last month, European football federations announced their intention for team captains – including England’s Harry Kane – to wear “One Love” rainbow armbands to symbolise opposition to LGBT+ discrimination in Qatar.
Tatchell added: “Despite Fifa saying that discrimination will not be tolerated, if a Qatari footballer came out as gay, he would be more likely to be arrested and jailed than be selected for the national team. That’s discrimination and against Fifa’s rules.
“Fifa has failed to secure change in Qatar. There have been no legislative reforms on LGBT+ or women’s rights. Improvements for migrant workers have been patchy at best. Fifa is letting Qatar evade many of its pledges when it was granted the right to hold the World Cup.”
Tatchell’s arrest comes as Qatar’s ruling emir attacked criticism of his country over its hosting of the World Cup, describing it as an “unprecedented campaign” targeting the first Arab nation to hold the tournament.
In a televised speech before the emirate’s legislative body on Tuesday, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said: “The campaign tends to continue and expand to include fabrications and double standards that were so ferocious that it has unfortunately prompted many people to question the real reasons and motives.”
Human rights groups have credited Qatar with improving its labour laws since it won the right to host the world’s biggest sporting event, such as dismantling the kafala system, for example, which tied a worker to a single employer, and introducing a minimum monthly wage. However, activists call for more to be done.