Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press in accordance with the law, but the government limited these rights. Self-censorship remained the primary obstacle to free speech and press.
Freedom of Expression: Citizens did not discuss sensitive political and religious issues in public forums, but citizens discussed these issues in private and on social media. In July the country hosted an international conference on freedom of expression, including representatives from international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Human Rights Watch (HRW). HRW was not prevented from making remarks critical of the country’s cybercrime law, the closure of the Doha News website, or women being unable to transmit citizenship to their children. The law prohibits residents from criticizing the emir. Members of the majority foreign population exercised self-censorship on sensitive topics. The law penalizes damaging, removing, or performing an action that expresses hate and contempt to the country’s flag, the Gulf Cooperation Council flag, or the flag of any international organization or authority by up to three years in prison. The use of the national flag without formal permission from authorities, displaying a damaged or discolored flag, or changing the flag by adding photographs, text, or designs to it are also criminalized.
Press and Media Freedom: The law includes restrictive procedures on the establishment of newspapers, closure, and confiscation of assets of a publication. It also criminalizes libel and slander, including insult to dignity. A journalist may be fined up to 100,000 Qatari riyals (QAR) ($27,500) and imprisoned for a year for defamation and reporting of “false news.”
Members of the ruling family or proprietors who enjoyed close ties to government officials owned all print media. Both private and government-owned television and radio reflected government views; they generally did not criticize authorities or the country’s policies. The government owned and partially funded the Doha-based al-Jazeera satellite television network, which carried regional, international, and theme-based programming. It also partially funded other media outlets operating in the country. Some observers and former al-Jazeera employees alleged that the government influenced the content. Since November 2016 authorities blocked access to Doha News, a website that had received significant domestic criticism for its coverage of socially sensitive issues ranging from labor rights to homosexuality. The government did not make an official statement on the closure, but it maintained that the blocking of the website was a result of registration and fund-raising violations under the law.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Qatar Media Corporation, the Ministry of Culture and Sports, and customs officials censored material. There were no specific reports of political censorship of foreign broadcast news media or foreign programs. The government reviewed, censored, or banned foreign newspapers, magazines, films, and books for objectionable sexual, religious, and political content. Journalists and publishers continued to self-censor due to political and economic pressures when reporting on government policies or material deemed denigrating to Islam, the ruling family, and relations with neighboring states. Shortly after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt broke diplomatic relations with and closed borders, ports and airspaces to Qatar on June 5, the Qatari government reportedly instructed newspaper editors to avoid inflammatory language targeting the disputant countries. In September the Doha-based daily al-Watan refused to publish a commentary by a known local author that contained criticism of a prominent religious figure in Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, the author posted the commentary on his personal blog and later disseminated it via other media outlets.
Libel/Slander Laws: Laws restrict the publication of information that could incite the overthrow of the regime or harm supreme state interests; slander the emir or heir apparent; report official secret agreements; defame the Abrahamic faiths or include blasphemy; prejudice heads of state or disturb relations; harm the national currency or the economic situation; violate the dignity of persons, the proceedings of investigations, and prosecutions in relation to family status; or defame the state or endanger its safety.
The maximum punishments for violations of cybercrime law are up to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 QAR ($137,500). The law prohibits any online activity that threatens the safety of the state, its general order, and its local or international peace. It also criminalizes the spread of “false news,” forces internet providers to block objectionable content, and bans the publication of personal or family information, even if true.
The law requires internet service providers to block objectionable content based on a request from judicial entities. Internet providers also are obligated to maintain long-term electronic records and traffic data for the government. The government-controlled internet service provider Ooredoo restricted the expression of views via the internet and censored the internet for political, religious, and pornographic content through a proxy server, which monitored and blocked websites, email, and chat rooms. Users who believed authorities had censored a site mistakenly could submit the website address to have the site reviewed for suitability; there were no reports that any websites were unblocked based on this procedure. The Ministry of Transportation and Communication is responsible for monitoring and censoring objectionable content on the internet.
Internet access was widespread, and more than 98 percent of households were connected to the internet, according to a 2016 UN report.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The constitution provides for freedom of expression and scientific research. Instructors at Qatar University noted that they often exercised self-censorship. Instructors at foreign-based universities operating in the country, however, reported they generally enjoyed academic freedom. There were occasional government restrictions on cultural events, and some groups organizing cultural events reported they exercised self-censorship. Authorities censored books, films, and internet sites for political, religious, and sexual content and for vulgar and obscene language.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but this right is restricted by law, including the General Assembly and Demonstration Law and the Associations and Private Institutions Law. Noncitizens are exempt from the constitutional protections on freedom of assembly. Organizers of public meetings must meet a number of restrictions and conditions and obtain approval from the Ministry of Interior to acquire a permit. Religious groups are required to register with the government; however, authorities did not harass groups that worship in private.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for the right to form groups, defined by the law as professional associations and private institutions, but the government significantly limited this right. Noncitizens are exempt from the constitutional protections on freedom of association. There were no reports of attempts to organize politically. There were no organized political parties, and authorities prohibited politically oriented associations. The government prohibits professional associations and private institutions from engaging in political matters or affiliating internationally. Civil society organizations must obtain approval from the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs (MADLSA), which may deny their establishment if it deems them a threat to the public interest. There were 26 professional and private organizations in the country.
Administrative obstacles, including the slow pace of procedures required to form professional associations and private institutions, and strict conditions on their establishment, management, and function, restricted their recognition. The minister of administrative development, labor, and social affairs must approve applications, and the number of noncitizens cannot exceed 20 percent of the total membership without approval by the ministerial cabinet. The law stipulates that the ministry may reject an application within 30 days from the date of submission. A failure to reply is considered a rejection.
Professional societies must pay 50,000 QAR ($13,750) in licensing fees and 10,000 QAR ($2,750) in annual fees, and have 10 million QAR ($2.75 million) in capital funds. Private institutions must also have 10 million QAR ($2.75 million) in capital funds, but the Council of Ministers may waive this requirement. Registrations expire after three years, and an association must reregister.
Informal organizations, such as community support groups and activity clubs, operated without registration, but they may not engage in activities deemed political.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not fully respect these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to assist internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
In-country Movement: Restrictions on in-country movement for citizens concerned sensitive military, oil, and industrial installations. Although there was less emphasis on setting and enforcing “family-only times” at entertainment areas in Doha, several local malls and markets continued to restrict access to certain areas to foreign workers on weekends and those dressed “immodestly.”
Foreign Travel: The government prevented the travel of its citizens only when they were involved in court cases in progress. In January authorities placed a local human rights lawyer on the travel-ban list, and it renewed the travel ban in June despite a court order to lift the ban in May. The lawyer claimed the travel ban was politically motivated. The government’s sponsorship system restricted foreign travel for noncitizens, although reforms introduced in December 2016 and January eased these restrictions and allowed for a grievance mechanism in cases of unjustified employer travel restrictions. A new agreement signed with the International Labor Organization in November includes provisions to allow free movement of all employees not working in “sensitive” positions.
Government officials stated publicly that employees should be able to leave the country free from interference, unless blocked by a court order or an outstanding debt. The law prohibits the practice of employers withholding workers’ passports and increases penalties for employers who continue to do so, but noncitizen community leaders and officials from labor-exporting countries confirmed it remained a common problem with insufficient enforcement.
Citizenship: The law allows for the revocation of citizenship. In September the Saudi Arabia-owned al-Arabiya.net news website said that the Qatari government revoked the citizenship of approximately 55 members of the al-Murrah tribe, all of whom also have Saudi citizenship and reside in Saudi Arabia, and froze their assets in a crackdown on dissent. In October non-Qatari media, including the Saudi Gazette and The Arab Weekly, stated that several other Qatari dual citizens, including the head of the Shaml al-Hawajer tribe, lost their Qatari citizenship under similar circumstances. The Qatari government confirmed that a number of dual citizens did have their citizenship removed. In doing so, it noted that Qatar does not recognize dual-national status and all the individuals who had their nationality revoked were also citizens of Saudi Arabia.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: On May 25, authorities deported to Saudi Arabia Mohammed al-Otaibi, a Saudi human rights defender, as he was en route to Norway to take up an offer of political asylum. According to Amnesty International, authorities in Saudi Arabia reportedly placed Otaibi on trial and held him without access to a lawyer.
Access to Asylum: The law does not explicitly provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but occasionally the government accepted such individuals as “guests” on a temporary basis. The government legally classified the small number of persons granted residence on humanitarian grounds as visitors. The government provided housing and education to these de facto refugees. The Syrian Opposition Coalition office in Doha reported there were approximately 60,000 Syrian refugees living in Doha.
Citizenship derives solely from the father, and Qatari women cannot transmit citizenship to their noncitizen spouse or children. A woman must obtain permission from authorities before marrying a foreign national but does not lose citizenship upon marriage.
According to the NHRC 2016 statistics, approximately 2,000 bidoon, stateless residents, in the country suffered some social discrimination. Meem Magazine, an online publication that addresses issues faced by Arab women, estimated the bidoon population at 1,300 individuals. The bidoon, who are afforded residency with the sponsorship of a Qatari resident, were able to register for public services such as education and health care. Their main complaints revolve around the inability to own property in the country and to travel freely to other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
The law allows long-term residents to apply for citizenship after living in the country for 25 consecutive years, but the government rarely approved citizenship applications, which were by law capped at 50 per year. Restrictions and inconsistent application of the law prevented stateless persons from acquiring citizenship. In August the cabinet approved a law granting “permanent residencies” to the children of Qatari women married to non-Qatari husbands, individuals who perform “great service” to the country, and individuals with “special skills.” Permanent residency provides free health and education in addition to giving recipients priority in applying for jobs with the government.