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Monday, January 24, 2022

Relief and congratulations, reactions to Qatari activist Noof Al Maadeed’s return to social media


Qatar’s Minister of Social Development and Family, Mariam Al-Misnad, sent Al Maadeed a gift a ‘welcome home’ gift.

Qatari activist Noof Al Maadeed, who had fled the country following years of alleged domestic abuse, reappeared on Twitter late on Sunday assuring the public that she is safe and receiving the needed protection.

The 23-year-old woman had disappeared from social media on 13 October, 2021 after saying she was feeling unsafe, leading to months of online campaigning by supporters and activists demanding authorities disclose information of her whereabouts under the hashtag #WhereIsNoof.

Unsubstantiated reports by a human rights group then emerged claiming that Al Maadeed had been “killed” by her family. Those claims were swiftly dismissed by Qatari government sources, according to the Guardian, but that did little to dismiss concern over Al Maadeed’s wellbeing, instead calls grew louder for officials to demonstrate transparency and give assurances that the former asylum seeker was in good health.

With the release of Sunday’s videos, Noof’s friends and supporters expressed their relief online, women’s rights activists, members of human rights groups and journalists also joined in celebrating the news that the young Qatari woman was indeed alive.

I’m so very happy to see Noof Al Maadeed is released and back online letting the world know she is okay. I’m hoping that this is the start of Qatar ensuring she can live a free independent life respecting her choices about her safety and care,” tweeted Rothna Begum, Senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch [HRW].

Meanwhile, prominent Saudi activist Lina Al Hathloul said,”Thank God for your safety Noof,” in response to one of the videos Al Maadeed posted on Twitter.

“The greatest news I’ve heard since the beginning of 2022. Not a single letter or word can express our joy upon Noof’s return to social media in good health and safety to return to her normal life again. I hope 2022 is a year filled with love, goodness, safety and precious moments with loved ones.”

One Twitter user  described the confirmation that Noof was alive as “the greatest news I’ve heard since the beginning of 2022,” adding that “not a single letter or word can express our joy upon Noof’s return to social media in good health and safety to return to her normal life again. I hope 2022 is a year filled with love, goodness, safety and precious moments with loved ones.”

Qatari women who have questioned the reporting of Al Maadeed’s case also took to social media to welcome her return and point out the rumours over her death that shaped the story’s narrative in recent weeks.

Thinking about those girls who created the twitter space claiming Noof Al Maadeed is dead and kicking her actual cousin out for speaking the truth. Where are y’all now?,” said another Twitter user.

Following her return, Al Maadeed also shared an image of balloons and cakes she received at her undisclosed residence from the Qatari Minister of Social Development and Family, indicating that officials in the country have been closely following the young woman’s case.

Al-Misnad had served as the executive director of the Protection and Social Rehabilitation Centre (AMAN) to help those dealing with abuse and was commonly known as “Mama Mariam” following her time as the head of Qatar’s DREAMA orphanage.

Spread of panic and misinformation

During her social media hiatus, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights [GCHR] had published a report alleging Al Maadeed had been killed after being kidnapped by her family on the day of her disappearance.

While the report failed to provide any evidence to substantiate the allegation, it stirred panic across the country.

A Qatari official speaking on the condition of anonymity had confirmed that Al Maadeed was in fact safe, in good health, and being protected, according to the Guardian.

Hessa Al Maadeed, a cousin of the 23-year-old, also confirmed back then that the GCHR as false, tweeting: “To everyone in my DMs asking about Noof…I can’t say EXACTLY where she is, I know she is alive.”

However, since no updates were issued at the time of the report, hundreds of people demanded authorities’ demonstrate transparency and disclose information that proved the young activist was indeed well and good.

Western outlets also picked up the news despite the fact that the allegations were baseless, with headlines that appeared to be sensationalised.

#WheresNoof: Reported death of ‘missing’ Qatari woman dismissed

“As a public person with an active social media presence, who even stated ‘If I’m not on social media, I’m dead’, it’s understandable that a sudden silence would prompt serious concern about Noof’s whereabouts from the media,” Dr. Marc Owen Jones, Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies and Digital Analytics Expert, told Doha News on Monday.

Dr. Jones further noted that it seemed that reporters had “a desire to suspend usual journalistic norms of rigour in order to publish what seemed to be unsubstantiated rumours that she had died”.

The GCHR report was also shared by various accounts, including bots calling for a “boycott” of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Now, despite being quick to publish the news during her disappearance, there has been an apparent silence among western outlets.

“The fact that so far there hasn’t been much reporting on her being alive in the papers that reported the rumours of her death indicates that they are perhaps  interested in a sensationalist story rather than what appears to be a complex reality,” said Dr. Jones.

Beyond her rumoured death, a report by The Daily Mail also claimed that Al Maadeed was being “held against her will” at a psychiatric hospital in Qatar, raising further concerns over her wellbeing.

“It is also not clear what regard was paid to her situation by the press – was she vulnerable, or in hospital, if so aren’t there medical ethics and duty of care requirements that problematise these somewhat expectant demands for proof of life,” said Dr. Jones.

Return to social media

After months of speculations, the activist finally returned to social media under a new account @Justnoof98, where she thanked all those who advocated for her safety.

“Hello everyone, I am back on social media on this new account because I lost the password for my old one. I am safe and healthy and posting this video so I can assure everyone who fought for my safety. Thank you,” Noof said.

In a further bid to assure her supporters, Noof posted another video with the date to dismiss any speculations that the previous recording was fabricated or pre-dated.

“Those who doubt the authenticity of the video, today is January 9, 2022. Noof is here. Noof is alive. Noof did not die,” the video added.

Noof also tweeted a third video informing people that she is in Doha and is safe and sound. Her absence from social media prior to Sunday’s updates raised concerns over her safety amongst activists and human rights organisations.

Following her posts on Sunday, Noof’s videos quickly circulated social media regionally, with hundreds rushing to welcome her back and expressing their happiness and relief for her safety.

Return from the UK

Al Maadeed announced her return to Qatar from the UK on 30 September – where she sought asylum in 2019. Her return to her home country, where she complained of abuse from her family, had been hailed as a “brave move” by many.

The young Qatari had been documenting her case on social media, and in one post, said she decided to return home due to her full confidence in authorities to protect her from any threats.

On 13 October, Al Maadeed published a tweet saying she was not safe before shortly sending another that said she was “a bit more okay”.

Shortly after, she disappeared from social media and the only proof of her whereabouts were tweeted on Sunday, January 9.

Speaking to Human Rights Watch [HRW] in 2019, Al Maadeed said she had suffered abuse by her family and that her freedom of movement was restricted.

Read also: #WheresNoof? Qataris search for answers into fate of missing ‘abuse victim’

Al Maadeed said she was only allowed to leave the house for school. She told HRW that she tapped into the government’s Metrash app in 2019 through her father’s mobile phone to process her exit permit.

She then climbed out of her bedroom window before flying out to Ukraine and then onto the UK.

Ahead of her return , Al Maadeed assured more than 12,000 Twitter followers that the issues she had faced back home had been “resolved” and that she would not flee the country again.

“This would literally not be possible without my family’s support,” tweeted Al Maadeed on 29 September, the same day she announced the withdrawal of her asylum application.

Then on 11 October, after leaving quarantine in Doha, Al Maadeed said she was not “100% okay” as the people coordinating her safe return were unaware of the dangers she could face from her alleged abusive family.

At another hotel facility, the young woman said she was visited by individuals who were not supposed to be anywhere near her, prompting her to seek refuge at a local police station.

Al Maadeed then claimed she met representatives from the Ministry of Interior [MOI] and insisted on going to the Amiri Diwan to meet Qatar’s Minister of Interior and Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani, who she had hoped would resolve her case.

On the same day, Al Maadeed said she remained at the police station as she felt safer there than at the hotel, where she was subjected to alleged “murder attempts”.

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