Qatar fails to deliver on World Cup promises

“It’s an opportunity to maybe shine a light on the issues and use our platforms to make change for the better.”

These were the words of England midfielder Jordan Henderson during a press conference in the months preceding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. His comments were in response to questions about the host nation’s appalling human rights record, particularly in regard to LGBTQ+ people, women and labour migrants, and whether teams should be boycotting the competition in protest.

England manager Gareth Southgate echoed Henderson’s suggestion. “There would be more change if we go and these things are highlighted,” he argued. “There’s an opportunity to use our voices and our platform in a positive way.”

This sentiment was commonly expressed in the build-up to the tournament, as teams justified their participation in what was widely regarded to be an ill-disguised sportswashing attempt. However, a year has gone by and such changes have yet to materialise, with those inside the state continuing to be denied basic rights and freedoms.

Qatari physician and activist Dr Nasser Mohamed tells Index on Censorship that for LGBTQ+ people inside the state the situation has not improved.

“As we were approaching the lead up to the Qatar World Cup, I noticed that the coverage and the public message was so disconnected from the lived reality that I had,” he revealed.

Mohamed publicly came out as gay in 2022, after his anonymous attempts to publicise the struggles of LGBTQ+ people in his home country received little traction, seeking asylum in the United States as a result. He described his initial reaction to Qatar being awarded the World Cup as one of “anger and defeat”. He accused the state of using the tournament to try and launder their international reputation, and attempting to gaslight the world into believing they aren’t abusers, despite “taking everything” from him.

As for the suggestions that the pressure of a global audience would force the state to improve their stance on LGBTQ+ rights, Nasser assured us that this has not been the case. “In terms of things on the ground, I think they have not changed, if anything they are worse,” he said. “Arrests, torture, everything, it’s still happening.”

The activist also condemned his home state’s use of celebrity endorsements to launder their image. “You get people like David Beckham coming in and selling their influence to the authoritative regime, saying things like ‘football has the power to change the world’. Amazing! Do you think it will happen by your magical presence?” he laughed. “You can’t just show up and magically infuse goodness into the world, there needs to be action.”

Mohamed also criticised the role of the media when it came to reporting on such human rights violations, arguing that much of the coverage afforded to LGBTQ+ rights in the region framed the issue as a cultural argument between the Middle East and the West, which he said came at the detriment of actual LGBTQ+ people in the country.

“You get all the thousands of spins on the same factual story. ‘Muslim Dad beats his son’ or ‘Homophobic Qatari is violently attacking his LGBT child’. Then on the Arabic side, ‘white Europeans and Americans are intruding to come and tell Middle Eastern parents how to raise their children’,” he explained.

“Then people get really afraid because now they are worried about Islamophobia, racism, discrimination. In comparison, sometimes it feels like being in the closet and occasionally facing homophobia is a lesser evil.”

The absence of change in Qatar is not down to a lack of effort on the part of persecuted groups. In the autumn 2022 issue of Index, when we looked at the free speech implications of hosting the tournament in Qatar, Qatari activist Abdullah Al-Maliki outlined the many ways the regime punishes – and thereby silences – human rights defenders. He wrote:

“Tamim [bin Hamad Khalifa al-Thani] has planted fear and terror in the hearts and minds of the Qatari people. No one in our country can criticise the actions and words of the corrupt dictator, or those of his terrorist gang.”

Mohamed spoke about his own recent experience. He suggested that external pressure has been placed on platforms and organisations to stifle any allegations of human rights violations in the state, a situation he is no stranger to. He described being “ghosted” by Meta, “shadowbanned” by X (formerly Twitter) and speaking to high-profile politicians at length only for those conversations to go nowhere.

“There’s censorship definitely,” he said. “It’s really hard because Qatar’s money is everywhere. Whenever my voice reached a certain level, I was dropped by the people I was talking to.”

It seems that simply spreading the word is not helping to bring about changes in the region. “I naively thought nothing was happening through lack of knowledge,” Mohamed said, before pausing. “It’s not a lack of knowledge.”

There are similar concerns over the continuing exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar. Despite promises from the state that conditions would improve following global outrage in the build-up to the World Cup, a report published last week by Amnesty International stated that progress towards improving these rights has largely stalled since the tournament ended, while hundreds of thousands of workers who suffered abuses linked to the tournament have still not received justice.

Prior to the tournament, there was hope that the global pressure had successfully pushed Qatar into improving conditions for migrant labourers. Reforms were passed in 2021 in an attempt to reduce the power of sponsors over workers’ mobility and to raise the minimum wage, motions which were largely influenced by the criticisms levelled at the country following their successful World Cup bid. However, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic Social Justice, Steve Cockburn, said on publication of the new report that Qatar had shown a “continued failure to properly enforce or strengthen” these pre-World Cup labour reforms, putting the legacy of the tournament in “serious peril”.

He said in a statement: “From illegal recruitment fees to unpaid wages, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers lost their money, health and even their lives while FIFA and Qatar tried to deflect and deny responsibility. Today, a year on from the tournament too little has been done to right all these wrongs, but the workers who made the 2022 World Cup possible must not be forgotten.”

Human Rights Watch stated earlier this year that the 2021 legislation was not in itself adequate to solve the issues faced by migrant workers, calling claims by Qatari authorities and FIFA that their labour protection systems were adequate to prevent abuse “grossly inaccurate and misleading”. An investigation by the organisation found that some issues being faced by migrant workers in the country in the aftermath of the World Cup include wage theft, being prohibited from transferring jobs, not receiving their entitled compensations and being unable to join a union.

Mohamed believes that the fight for human rights in Qatar should encompass all such groups who find themselves exploited, abused or persecuted, but that more targeted action is required: “Workers rights, women’s rights, you can support all of these causes and I think it can be powerful, and it can be a very helpful thing to do, but it needs intention.”

Standing together for peace in the Middle East

Peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict may seem like a distant dream, but even now there are those on the ground working to build understanding between the two peoples. The Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) is an umbrella organisation which helps bring together more than 170 groups across the region seeking dialogue and mutual understanding. ALLMEP this week helped organise a seminar, The Gaza War in Israel to amplify these voices. One of the largest grassroots Israeli-Palestinian groups is Standing Together which, according to its mission statement, mobilises Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel in pursuit of peace, equality and social and climate justice. Two of the speakers at the seminar, Sally Abed and Uri Weltmann, represented the organisation, whose members have been arrested in Jerusalem for putting up posters with the message: “Jews and Arabs, we will get through this together.” Weltmann warned of an increasingly authoritarian atmosphere in Israel following the 7 October atrocities. He pointed to comments by Israel’s police commissioner, Kobi Shabtai. who said: “Anyone who wants to sympathize with Gaza is welcome to get on a bus and go there.”

Index attended the seminar and has been given permission to print edited versions of one-minute monologues given by some of the expert panel members.


Sally Abed is a Palestinian leader of Standing Together (Omdim be’Yachad/ Naqef Ma’an), the largest Jewish-Arab grassroots movement in Israel. She is running for city council in Haifa as head of a Jewish-Arab list. She was recently profiled in a New York Times article about Israel’s peace movement in the shadow of war.

The first thing I want to say is to hold the people of Gaza in your prayers. It’s just heart-wrenching to see [what is happening] and to feel so hopeless and so helpless, and to not be able do something about it. Especially here from Israel as a Palestinian. I do want to say that I think a message for me as a Palestinian that is very important for me to portray to everyone in the world [is] there are Palestinians in Israel who are going through the experience and the humanitarian loss and the catastrophe that the Israeli public has gone through.

Our cause for Palestinian liberation is a very just cause. However, we cannot justify the extreme measures that Hamas has took to advance this cause and I think one of the most important things that we need to hold [onto] right now as a Palestinian liberation movement, and as Palestinians, is our rights, all of us as civilians, for life – to live securely. I really want to hold that very, very tight.

Listen to us, listen to the people on the ground here in Israel. We are often overlooked. We are seeing amazing cases of radical empathy of victims, Israeli victims who have lost dear ones, and who have people in captivity right now and who are still calling for a ceasefire, who are still calling for ending the occupation, who are still calling for peace. We need to join these people and we need to really hold our humanity together as people and isolate our leaderships at the moment.


Uri Weltmann is the national field organiser for Standing Together (Omdim be’Yachad/ Naqef Ma’an), and a member of its national leadership. He lives in Tel Aviv-Yafo.

Since 2005 there have been 16 major military operations carried out by the Israeli government against the population of the Gaza Strip. None of these military actions brought safety and security to Israelis. All of these military actions only wreaked havoc on the civic population in Gaza, causing many innocent lives [to be lost] including children, and each one of them merely planted the seed for the next major military operation. I fear we are going in the same direction. I fear our government is pushing us into yet another round of violent bloodletting, yet another round of taking a terrible toll of human life of Palestinians in Gaza, and yet another round of undermining the safety and security of us, the people who live in Israel. We need to go about it in an entirely different direction. We need to go for an Israeli-Palestinian peace based on UN resolutions. We need to go in the direction of ending the siege and ending the occupation, and securing the independence, freedom and justice of both peoples. This is what Standing Together is doing, and we are doing this not on the West Coast or the East Coast [of the USA], or Europe. We are doing this inside Israeli society, organising Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel, which we think is the only way for us as an Israeli peace movement to go about it.



Lebanon’s journalists face Hezbollah threat

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116296″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]On 4 February, the Lebanese activist, political commentator and publisher Lokman Slim was shot dead in his car

Before his murder, Slim already suspected that his days were numbered and told family members that should anything happen to him, the Shia militant group Hezbollah – of which he had been an outspoken critic – would likely be behind it.

For the first time in years, after verbal and many physical attacks on people who oppose the politics of Hezbollah, a well-known personality [Slim] was assassinated in their areas with many leads that allow many to boldly question their involvement in his murder,” said Lebanese journalist Luna Safwan.

Safwan said that his assassination followed years of threats and attempts to drive him away from his house which is located inside the Hezbollah stronghold in Dahiye.

“[There were] continuous campaigns against him, trying to somehow shape his view as a sympathiser with violence against Hezbollah supporters or the Shia community in Lebanon,” she said. “The way I see it, the aim was not only to assassinate him physically, but to also tarnish his reputation even after his death.”

Safwan herself has also been targeted. She tweeted criticism of Hezbollah in October and received a high volume of online abuse, including several death threats, after the tweet was featured on an Israeli news channel.

Safwan believes attacks on journalists and other critics of Hezbollah have increased in recent years. 

“Journalists, activists and even protestors and people from inside the Shia community have started questioning Hezbollah’s politics in the region, and how much Hezbollah is prioritising Lebanon.”

Last December, the family of Maryam Seif Eddine, a strong critic of Hezbollah, was attacked and issued with death threats.

The same month, Sawt Beirut International reporter Rabih Chantaf and cameraman Mahmoud Al-Sayyed were attacked while covering a fire in the Lebanese capital.

Arab News reported that as the pair were filming firemen attending the blaze, they were approached by people in plain clothes and forcibly stopped from filming. They were beaten as they fled down the building’s stairs. Sawt Beirut blamed the incident on Hezbollah.

In January, Layal Alekthiar, a journalist for US-backed Alhurra News channel, was threatened after a Twitter post that questioned the unveiling of a statue to the late Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, killed by US forces last year. Iran is a backer of Hezbollah.

Another journalist working in Lebanon – who wished to remain anonymous due to the current attitude towards reporters – told Index that journalists in the country “all feel at risk”.

“The assassination of Slim was a reminder of that,” they said. 

Journalists are increasingly self-censoring as a result.

The journalist said, “I have been covering [Lebanon’s] economic crisis, so I don’t feel personally at risk, even though I noticed that my sources are getting increasingly scared,” they said. “If I were to be given a topic related to Hezbollah I would be extra careful. You just have to see the number of threats my colleagues receive when they express an anti-Hezbollah opinion on social media.”

Independent Lebanese journalist Zahra Hankir, who wrote in the winter issue of Index on Censorship magazine and is based between London and Lebanon, said reporters are reeling from recent events and are “galvanised” by the state in which Lebanon finds itself in, particularly following the deadly explosion in August that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands.

“Despite Lebanon being hailed for decades as more free for journalists than its regional counterparts, reporters, political analysts and commentators in the country are increasingly facing threats and harassment in their work, particularly women,” she said.

“Lebanon’s media landscape has always had ‘red lines’ that journalists inherently understood could not be crossed without reprisals – among them, criticism of Hezbollah.”

“Reporters and commentators have been galvanized by recent events, given the dire state of the country, and as such have often been more brazen in their reporting. In some cases, they have paid dearly for their bravery.”

The explosion exposed, among other things, wide-scale corruption in the country. But the lack of accountability in Lebanon means people are still at risk and not just from Hezbollah.

With Hezbollah increasingly criticised for its position in Lebanon and the government unwilling to truly crack down on corruptive practices, journalists are constantly looking over their shoulders.

Safwan said: “Laws in Lebanon have flaws and don’t offer any real protection to journalists, especially when we are subjected to online hate campaigns. There should be a clear process that allows us to immediately pursue legal action even if against ‘unknown entities’. 

She said, “In my opinion the ministry of information and syndicate of journalism are not paying attention to what journalists really need.”

Additional reporting by Mark Frary[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also like to read” category_id=”581″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Why Index has held its first ever social media blackout

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”115908″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Yesterday, for the first time, the team at Index suspended its normal social media engagement. We stopped highlighting each attack on free speech around the world. We stopped giving comment on emerging events. Instead for 24 hours, we tweeted, on the hour, every hour, about one man – Ruhollah Zam.

We did this because Ruhollah’s story exemplifies why Index on Censorship exists. And because we are heartbroken at his death.

Ruhollah was executed by his government, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

His “crime” was to be journalist and a human rights activist – running an alternative news channel which criticised the Government. A brave and honourable endeavour.

Ruhollah’s “crime” was to exercise his rights as stated in Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. For the record, Iran was an original signatory to the UN DHR. When they signed the declaration in 1948 they committed to a world where all of us have basic human rights. On Saturday, they ignored this commitment.

Ruhollah was killed by his government. He was hanged. He was silenced.

Please take a few minutes today to read about Ruhollah’s life – as with all of us he was more than his job title. He was a son, a husband and a father. His life touched literally hundreds of thousands of people because of his activism. His death must reach millions.

The Iranian execution of Ruhollah Zam is a stark reminder of why Index was launched nearly 50 years ago. We were established to shine a light on repressive regimes, to ensure that attacks on free expression were documented and to provide a home for the writings of dissidents when they couldn’t publish in the countries of their birth.

Ruhollah Zam embodied the fight for free expression and a free press. It’s now down to us to live up to his legacy and make sure that journalists, activists, artists, academics and writers know that they have a home and that someone is making sure that their voices are heard – even when they are incarcerated.

Ruhollah Zam, 27 July 1978 – 12 December 2020

May His Memory Be A Blessing

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