New report points to online expression violations in Qatar, region


Serious restrictions on the right to freedom of expression persist in Qatar. A new report published by Human Rights Watch on 1st November detailed numerous cases of human rights defenders and activists who have been targeted for online activism across the Gulf region, including in Qatar. 

Among the cases highlighted in the report is that of Qatari poet Muhammad ibn Al-Dheeb Al-Ajami who was arrested in November 2011 and sentenced to life in prison. Although he was later pardoned and released in March 2016 under an amnesty, his case is emblematic of the extremely restricted space for freedom of expression in Qatar. In 2012 Al-Ajami was given a life sentence, which was later reduced to 15 years in prison, for insulting the Emir of Qatar and allegedly 'inciting to overthrow the ruling regime.' He was arrested after the publication of his 'Jasmine poem', which criticised governments across the Gulf region in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. 

A Cyber Crime Law passed in 2014 also undermines respect for freedom of expression in Qatar. Due to the vague wording of some of its provisions, the legislation could be used as a means to target human rights defenders to hinder their legitimate and peaceful work. Under the act, a person can be sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of up to QR 500,000 (approx. $140,000) if found guilty of 'spreading false news with the aim of destabilising national security' or for 'using websites to spread terrorism or support terrorist groups.' Such control of online expression in Qatar is in line with similar developments across the Gulf, where recent research has revealed industrial-scale state propaganda on Twitter.