Gay Qataris physically abused then recruited as agents, campaigner says

  • State using them to track down other gay people, he says
  • Rights group tells of transgender woman kept in solitary

Gay Qataris have been promised safety from physical torture in exchange for helping the authorities to track down other LGBTQ+ people in the country, a prominent Qatari doctor and gay rights campaigner has told the Guardian.

Dr Nasser Mohamed, who lives in the US but retains contact with hundreds of gay Qataris, said that some secret networks had been compromised after arrests by Qatar’s preventive security department.

“A lot [of gay Qataris] don’t know about each other,” Mohamed said. “And it’s safer that way because when the law enforcement finds one person, they actively try to find their entire network. But some of the people who were captured and physically abused were then recruited as agents.

“Now there are agents in the gay community that were promised safety from physical torture in exchange for working for the preventive security department and helping them find groups of LGBTQ+ people.”

Mohamed told the Guardian that foreign gay fans in Qatar would not be persecuted while at the World Cup finals tournament. However, he warned that local LGBTQ+ supporters faced a very different reality. “What is it like to be an LGBT Qatari? You live in fear, you live in the shadows, you’re actively persecuted. You’re subjected to state-sponsored physical and mental abuse. It’s dangerous to be an LGBT person in Qatar.”

Last month Human Rights Watch reported that Qatar’s preventive security department forces had arbitrarily arrested lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and subjected them to ill‑treatment in detention. HRW also documented six cases of severe and repeated beatings and five cases of sexual harassment in police custody between 2019 and 2022.

Rasha Younes, a senior researcher with HRW, told the Guardian that some cases were more striking than most. “There was one story of a transgender woman who was detained in solitary confinement for two months underground, lost her job as a result of being detained and was not able to give notice to her employer that she was gone,” she said. “They shaved her 17-inch long hair in detention, severely beat her until she bled, and denied her medical care.”

HRW is calling for the Qatari authorities to repeal article 285 and all other laws that criminalise consensual sexual relations outside of marriage and introduce legislation that protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, online and offline. It also wants freedom of expression and nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to be guaranteed, permanently, for all residents of Qatar.

Younes also criticised Fifa for failing to do more. “We’ve been engaging with Fifa with other sports organisations and LGBT rights activists for years and they have not been paying attention,” she said. “They have not been at all responsive or listen to the accounts that we have shared. Now that we have all this evidence, it’s really time for Fifa to stop having its fingers in its ears and actually listen.”

Fifa said it was committed to inclusivity and that it was “confident that all necessary measures will be in place for LGBTIQ+ fans and allies to enjoy the tournament in a welcoming and safe environment, just as for everyone else”.

In a statement, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy promised the World Cup would be free of any discrimination. “The SC is committed to delivering an inclusive and discrimination-free Fifa World Cup experience that is welcoming, safe and accessible to all participants, attendees and communities in Qatar and around the world,” it said.
“Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon. We simply ask for people to respect our culture.

“More than 600 international and regional sporting events have been held in Qatar since we were awarded the rights to host the tournament, welcoming thousands of fans from every corner of the world. While the tournament is the biggest event yet, there has never been an issue and every event has been delivered safely.”

Qatar’s government has also been invited to comment on the claims made by Mohammed and HRW. A Qatari official has said previously that HRW’s allegations “contain information that is categorically and unequivocally false”, without specifying. The Guardian