Qatar is set to attract millions of football fans to the world cup in November and December with hotels so scarce that many visitors plan to commute from neighbouring countries like the UAE, Oman and Bahrain. With this sudden influx of foreigners, Detained in Doha is receiving dozens of calls asking just how safe Qatar is.
Regional expert Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Doha & Detained in Dubai, has grave concerns. “Although Dubai is often the focus of criticism over wrongful arrests and lengthy detentions, Qatar follows the same patterns and is very aggressive with their application of the law and pursuit of foreign nationals abroad. Those alleged to have violated laws will face lengthy and unfair detention, a lack of consular support, a substandard justice system and expensive lawyers.
“Qatar in a sense, is less concerned about their international image. They have faced extensive criticism from Arab neighbours and human rights organisations for their alleged support of terrorism and their treatment of migrant workers, making them more resilient.
“A number of British and foreign nationals have faced human rights abuses within Qatar and are still detained in prison for crimes they have not committed. Local VIP’s with “Wasta” have significant influence over local law enforcement and judges.
“We have seen the way a flight of Australians were treated, strip searched and violated by local authorities. This treatment should serve as an indication of the immaturity and lack of rules and procedures within law enforcement.
“Tourists have faced detention for trivial issues including having alcohol in the system, “rude” behaviour that is often a cultural difference or subjective in nature, disputes with hotels, rental car companies or other businesses and false allegations from vindictive locals.
“Conor Howard was arrested for having a brand new herb grinder in his luggage, later freed then placed on Interpol’s database which caused him to be detained in Greece for several months. Interpol Red Notices can be issued by Qatar for the most trivial of reasons and they will vigorously pursue their target.
“Most Embassies in Qatar are there to promote trade relations. They are generally unsupportive of citizens who face legal or human rights abuses and help should not be expected.
“Members of the LGBT community have already been denied rooms at hotels and care should be taken to hide their sexual orientation. Homosexuality is illegal and the penalties can be severe across the entire Middle East.
“Care should be taken to delete any explicit photographs or videos before travel as these can also lead to arrest if discovered.
“Swearing, road rage or offensive behaviour will lead to arrest and lengthy detention. Often the allegations are fabricated by the instigator but if he or she complains first, their account will be favoured.
“If visitors are at a location where someone is found to have drugs, police may arrest everyone at that location. If one is accused of trafficking, friends or groups may be charged simply for being in the vicinity.
“Visitors should take care with their social media presence and even private communications on WhatsApp or text. Anything deemed to be offensive by an onlooker or the recipient can result in a police complaint.
“Brits should consider whether they want to support a regime that has jailed and abused people like Jonathan Nash, Joe Sarlak and Ranald Crook. The regime has misused Interpol’s database to extort and try to jail British nationals in Europe as a means to harass them. Countries who treat foreigners with such contempt are a risk to those who travel and visiting could be a one way ticket”.