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 Speech and Expression: Citizens did not discuss sensitive political and religious issues in public forums, but these issues were discussed in private and on social media. The law prohibits residents from criticizing the emir. Members of the majority foreign population censored themselves publicly on sensitive topics. A 2015 law increases penalties for 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. Another law criminalizes 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.
Press and Media Freedoms: 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 QAR 100,000 ($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. On November 30, the country’ s internet service providers 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 maintained that the blocking of the website was a result of registration and fund-raising violations under the law. The Doha News’ editor and various human rights groups such as Amnesty International called it an “act of censorship.”
Censorship or Content Restrictions: In 2015 an article from the Doha Center for Media Freedom noted, “even though the Qatari government abolished censorship in 1995, media censorship still exists in Qatar and is widely practiced in the form of self-censorship.” 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. 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.
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; include defamation of one of the Abrahamic faiths or 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.
National Security: In some cases, courts ordered news outlets to refrain from covering sensitive trials.
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. Amnesty International assessed this law to pose a serious threat to freedom of expression.
The law requires internet service providers to block objectionable content based on a request from judicial entities. Internet providers are also 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, e-mail, 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 96 percent of households were connected to the internet, according to a 2014 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 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 also exempt from the constitutional protections on freedom of assembly. Organizers for a public meeting 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, although groups that worship in private have not been prosecuted.
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. Twenty-six professional and private organizations existed.
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.
Professional societies must pay QAR 50,000 ($13,750) in licensing fees and QAR 10,000 ($2,750) in annual fees, and have QAR 10 million ($2.75 million) in capital funds. Private institutions must also have QAR 10 million ($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 although it is not a signatory of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its Protocol.
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.” Police also limited foreign workers’ access to National Day celebrations on the main thoroughfare along Doha’s waterfront.
Foreign Travel: The government prevented the travel of its citizens only when they were involved in court cases in progress. The government’s sponsorship system severely restricted foreign travel for noncitizens and principally affected foreign workers.
On December 13, the government began a new system for requesting exit from the country. The new procedure requires that the government make a decision on whether to allow noncitizens to leave the country within 72 hours after an employee claims an employer failed to grant permission to leave. 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. There were no reported cases of citizenship revocation during the year.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
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.
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, approximately 2,000 stateless bidoon residents in the country suffered some social discrimination. The bidoon were able to register for public services such as education and health care.
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 reportedly capped at 50 per year. Restrictions and uneven application of the law prevented stateless persons from acquiring citizenship.