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 regularly discuss sensitive political and religious issues in public forums, but citizens discussed these issues in private and on social media. The law prohibits residents from criticizing the Amir. 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, their closure, and the confiscation of assets of a publication.
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 although call-in shows allowed for some citizen criticism of government ministries and policies. While media generally did not criticize authorities or the country’s policies, specific ministries and even individual ministers were regular targets of criticism in print media. 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 produced by that news outlet.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Qatar Media Corporation, the Ministry of Culture and Sports, and customs officials censored material. The government reviewed, censored, or banned foreign newspapers, magazines, films, and books for objectionable sexual, religious, and political content. In July international media reported that the local distributor of The New York Times censored a number of articles covering lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues. The Government Communication Office issued a statement in July explaining that “the government shall examine the issue of the removed articles with the local distributor and take corrective action if needed.” 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.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law 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.” Laws restrict the publication of information that slanders the Amir or heir apparent; defames the Abrahamic faiths or includes blasphemy; harms the national currency or the economic situation; violate the dignity of persons, the proceedings of investigations, and prosecutions in relation to family status; and punishes violators with up to seven years’ imprisonment.
National Security: Laws restrict the publication of information that could defame the state or endanger its safety; incite the overthrow of the regime or harm supreme state interests; report official secret agreements; or prejudice heads of state or disturb relations.
The maximum punishments for violations of the 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.
The law requires internet service providers to block objectionable content upon request from judicial authorities. 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 mistakenly censored a site could request that the site be reviewed by the Ministry of Transportation and Communication for suitability; there were no reports that any websites were unblocked based on this procedure.
More than 99 percent of households were connected to the internet.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The constitution provides for freedom of expression and scientific research. Instructors at Qatar University noted that they sometimes 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.
In October the Doha branch of an American university faced backlash from Qatari social media users, including threats of violence against campus staff, following publicity of an advertisement for a discussion titled “This House Believes That Major Religions Should Portray God as a Woman.” The event was eventually cancelled by campus management who stated that the organizers had failed to follow standard operating procedures to obtain permission to hold the event.
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.
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, which may deny their establishment if it deems them a threat to the public interest.
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 September new legislation abolished the exit requirements for 95 percent of the workforce in the private sector, with some exceptions including domestic workers. Government employees are also not exempted. Employers may still request exit permits for up to 5 percent of their workforce but must provide an explanation to the government for why they believe any employee should retain an exit permit restriction, such as access to sensitive information.
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 representatives from the Al-Ghufran tribe submitted a complaint to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, accusing the government of arbitrarily revoking the citizenship of 6,000 members of the tribe. Representatives from the government and the NHRC acknowledged that the citizenship of some of the tribe’s members was previously revoked but stated that revocations were only for dual-citizens, which the country does not recognize, and denied any new revocations during the year.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: In September the government passed legislation to grant political asylum status to asylum seekers. The new law stipulates the creation of a specialized committee within the Ministry of Interior to handle requests from asylum seekers. Once granted political asylum, the individual and his or her family have access to a range of free services provided by the government, including travel documents, jobs, monthly allowances, medical and educational services, and housing. Previously, 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 approximately 60,000 Syrians were living in Doha of which roughly 20,000 came to Doha after the start of the civil war and have been granted repeated extensions to their residency status to allow them to remain in country.
Citizenship derives solely from the father, and 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.
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 September the government passed a new law to regulate granting permanent residencies to some categories of non-Qataris. The law caps the number of new permanent residents to 100 per year. The intended beneficiaries of the new law are the children of Qatari women with non-Qatari fathers, husbands of Qatari women, and individuals with special skills or who offered remarkable services to the country.
The NHRC estimated that during the year there remained between 1,000 and 2,000 Bidoon, stateless residents in the country, and that they suffered some social discrimination. 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. Bidoon, however, are unable to own property in the country and cannot travel freely to other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
Permanent residents have the right to own property, open businesses without Qatari partners, and receive free education and health services.