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Friday, January 21, 2022

Workers’ rights activist Malcolm Bidali leaves Qatar following payment of ‘hefty fine’


Security guard and labour rights activist Malcolm Bidali had faced charges of “working for a foreign agent”.

A source told Doha News that after weeks in detention amid an ongoing investigation, activist and former security guard, Malcom Bidali, was allowed to leave Qatar after “a hefty fine” was paid on his behalf by a group of internationals rights organisations.

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.

His Instagram page ‘Noah Articulates’ regularly addressed issues he faced as a security guard working in central Doha.

“15 weeks after being detained, forcibly disappeared, questioned without legal counsel, and finally charged for activities related to his social media posts, Malcolm Bidali has been allowed to exit Qatar on 16 Aug after paying a hefty fine,” the group said on Twitter, noting a statement will follow.

On 5 May, according to Migrant Rights, the activist was “forcibly disappeared” by authorities and was later referred to the Qatar Public Prosecution for offences related to receiving payments from a foreign agent.

Weeks later 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”.

However, in early June, Bidali was released on bail as his case continued.

At the time, global rights organisation Amnesty International said “Malcolm is no longer in custody, but faces apparently trumped up charges in Qatar related to his legitimate activism.

“All charges stemming from his human rights work must be dropped” it added.

However, months after being charged, the former security guard was finally allowed to leave the country on 16 August and all charges were dropped, sources with knowledge revealed to Doha News.

The activist has already left the country on his own accord. Before his departure, Bidali continued to receive his salary from his employers throughout the investigation.

In a tweet, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, Rothna Begum said: “By arresting and charging a migrant worker for his reporting, Qatar has undermined its credibility on reforms for migrant workers rights”.

Charges, Investigation

In early May, Bidali was taken into custody and placed under investigation for “violating Qatar’s security laws and regulations”, though the alleged breaches were not specified at the time of his arrest, leading to concerned statements from activists and leading rights groups.

“Qatar brought these charges against Malcolm after state security forcibly disappeared him from his home on 4 May, held him in an undisclosed location, in solitary confinement, and interrogated him without a lawyer,” said Amnesty in a Twitter post.

Charges of working for a foreign agent were made following a thorough investigation by authorities, the GCO stated at the time, confirming the Kenyan national was set to receive legal advice and representation ahead of the court date.

In April, a source told Doha News that UN’s International Labour Organisation Project Office for the State of Qatar met with the security guard and confirmed he will be assigned a lawyer to represent him in the lead up to the court date.

The source later confirmed that the organisation was “indeed facilitating a lawyer,” in coordination with the International Trade Union Confederation [ITUC].

Global concerns

In May, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and GCC-based advocacy organisation Migrant-Rights.org penned a joint letter to say they had not heard from Bidali since he was taken from his company accommodation for questioning by the authorities before the information was released about his case later in May.

Following his arrest, some 240 Qatar Foundation (QF) students, alumni, faculty, and staff signed a letter addressed to CEO and chairperson of QF, Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani with concerns over his arrest, given the lack of information given to the public following his sudden arrest.

“In written communications to media outlets such as The Guardian and The Independent, officials from the Government Communications Office have cited violations of security regulations as the cause of his arrest,” said the letter.

“Importantly, his incommunicado status renders him unable to access any legal representation-a right that is protected under Qatari law. We fear that this event not only threatens to reverse the steps the Qatari government has taken in advancing the rights of migrant workers but also, as members of the Qatar Foundation community, of the Foundation’s commitment to nurturing a compassionate and just society,” added the letter.

Shortly after, Sheikha Hind responded to the concerns in a statement published online. 

“I am aware of the detention of Mr. Bidali and I am following the case. I have inquired with the appropriate authorities for an update on the situation, and have been informed that he is well and is being afforded his rights according to Qatar’s laws. We have also been in contact with the Government Communications Office and requested that regular updates on the status of the investigation are provided,” said Sheikha Hind in her response.

Read also: QF’s Sheikha Hind responds to student letter on detained security guard.

“I trust that the authorities are undergoing the correct procedures to complete their investigation, after which point we will have a clearer picture of what has happened. I will continue to actively engage with the relevant authorities on this matter,” her response letter added.

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