Qatar government and Indian community officials have called for calm after a weekend incident at Safari Mall in which a young man was attacked by a crowd of angry shoppers for allegedly insulting Islam.
Representatives of both groups met during an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss what happened.
Though no official account of the attack has been shared by authorities, video footage taken over the weekend shows a crowd of at least a hundred men gathered around someone crouching against a wall.
Several people can be observed shouting, hitting and punching the person, while a few others try to fend the crowd. Many on the scene were filming the attack.
According to community leaders, the young man has been hospitalized.
Speaking to Doha News, an Indian expat said the victim was alleged to have posted inflammatory comments in Malayalam about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
When he was spotted at the mall, several people accosted him and began questioning him about the posts, Niyas Yusuf said.
Yusuf, who wrote an open letter to Qatar’s Indian community denouncing the attack, added:
“What he did is completely wrong but such acts of mob attack in name of religion should not be encouraged. (It was) just horrible (in a) way which never happened here before and should not happen again.”
Qatar’s Ministry of Interior and community leaders echoed that sentiment, urging residents not to take the law into their own hands.
Girish Kumar, the president of the Indian Cultural Center in Qatar, told Doha News:
“The government has some serious concerns… The message is that no one should, under any circumstances, intervene (in this manner).
The public should not punish someone… Instead, issues should be reported immediately to the authorities.”
Following yesterday’s meeting, which was organized by the Indian embassy and included representatives of several community groups and government officials, Kumar said the MOI may launch an investigation into the individuals who assaulted the man.
He added that it was unclear whether the victim was actually the person responsible for posting any inflammatory material online.
The community leader also denounced both the online insults and subsequent assault, calling on expatriates here to respect the rules of their host nation:
“Qatar is such a great country… (and itoffers) vibrant cultural platforms for all communities and expats.
We need to have strong, peaceful harmony.”
Treading carefully online
According to a US State Department report on religion in Qatar, insulting certain faiths here is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
That includes defaming, desecrating, or committing blasphemy against Islam, Christianity or Judaism. Additionally, the law stipulates a one-year prison term or a fine of QR1,000 ($275) for producing or circulating material containing slogans, images, or symbols defaming those three religions.
More generally, Qatar’s new cybercrime law has also made it illegal for residents to create and share online content that’s deemed harmful to the country’s “social values” or “general order.”
The law’s passage has prompted many to tread more carefully on social media, though this weekend’s incident is not the first time that Facebook comments have landed a Qatar resident in hot water.
In February, a teacher at an Indian school here resigned after sharing an inflammatory cartoon of the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on her Facebook page.
Though her actions were not technically illegal, some parents objected to her post, and called the MES Indian School to complain, eventually resulting in her ousting.