The activist was ordered to pay a fine of QAR 25,000 before leaving the country
Human rights organisations have called on Qatar to halt what have been described as “abusive laws” that aim to “criminalise those who dare to speak up”, according to a joint statement.
The coalition of civil society organisations, including Amnesty International, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, FairSquare, Human Rights Watch and Migrant-Rights.org, published the statement following the departure of Kenyan activist Malcolm Bidali this week.
“If the government is serious about protecting human rights ahead of the 2022 World Cup, it must stop using abusive laws to criminalise those who dare to speak up in the country, including about the dire treatment of the very migrant workers making the tournament possible,” the joint statement read.
Bidali, known by his online name “Noah Articulates”, is a vocal workers’ rights advocate who gained popularity for blogging about violations he witnessed against employees in Qatar.
The 28-year-old former security guard regularly addressed issues he faced as a security guard working in central Doha on a number of online platforms, most famously on his Instagram page ‘Noah Articulates.’
His harrowing stories gained significant popularity across social media platforms, pushing hundreds to demand action from the government for the mistreatment of workers.
However, Migrant Rights said the activist was “forcibly disappeared” by authorities on 5 May – a crime under international law – and placed under solitary confinement for 26 days.
Human rights groups rushed to demand an explanation about his whereabouts but found no answers.
“During his detention, Qatari interrogators repeatedly questioned Malcolm without the presence of a lawyer and made him sign multiple papers in Arabic, a language he does not understand, without written translation,” the statement revealed.
On 29 May, the Government’s Communications Office said: “Mr. Bidali has been formally charged with offences related to payments received by a foreign agent for the creation and distribution of disinformation within the State of Qatar”.
Two days later, Bidali was released on bail as his case continued.
However, the statement has since revealed that Bidali was denied access to legal counsel throughout his detention and said he only allowed access to one phone call to his mother as well as a visit by a Kenyan embassy diplomat.
“The criminal order was handed down without him ever having been formally charged, brought before a court or even informed of the nature of the criminal charges he was facing, even after he obtained access to a lawyer following his conditional release on 31 May,” a statement read.
Almost two months later, the country’s Supreme Judiciary Council handed down a criminal order stating that Bidali had broadcast and published “false news with the intent of endangering the public system of the state” under Article 6 the cybercrime law, according to rights organisations.
Although the order was issued on 14 July, Malcolm was only made aware of it on 27 July, allowing him only one day to appeal the decision. More importantly, the charges he received did not relate to receipt of payments from foreign agents, but rather to his online activism.
“The charges violate international human rights law and standards and particularly the right to freedom of expression, and as such the Qatari authorities should take immediate steps to have the unjust ‘conviction’ quashed,” the joint statement added.
After weeks of legal battle, the former security guard was finally allowed to leave the country on 16 August after paying a hefty fine of QAR 25,000, having his personal phone confiscated and all his social media accounts blocked.
The fine was paid by an organisation working on the rights of migrant workers, sourced told Doha News at the time.
The activist is now out of the country and and all charges against him have been dropped, sources with knowledge revealed to Doha News earlier this week.
“I’m extremely fortunate to have gotten out (relatively) unscathed, given the selection of charges levelled against me,” Bidali said after his release.
“Outrageous charges, and an even more outrageous fine, for simply sharing our lived experiences and pointing out shortcomings of the specific entities responsible for workers’ welfare, none of which translates to ‘misinformation’.
“What I learnt from this was that a) free speech is expensive, and b) free speech is immensely effective. The latter is why so many activists and advocates do what they do, despite the very real risks involved. It’s an honour for me to be counted as one,” he added.
Rights group have now welcomed news of Bidali’s departure but expressed deep concern over the number of human rights violations that occurred throughout his case “solely from his legitimate human rights activism.”
“While we are relieved that Malcolm Bidali’s ordeal is over and he has finally been able to leave Qatar, he should never have been detained in the first place,” the coalition said.
“It has been clear all along that he was being penalised for his human rights activism, and this unjust ‘conviction’ for spreading ‘false information’ only confirms that Malcolm’s abduction, forced disappearance, detention, interrogation and hefty fine – all carried out without due process – risk leaving a chilling legacy on freedom of expression in Qatar.”
The statement also called on Qatar to urgently reform its judicial processes, including the cybercrime law that has been used against Malcolm.
Doha News has reached out to the Government’s Communications Office but received no statement.