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LGBTQ activist says he was 'seized' in Qatar ahead of the World Cup

British activist Peter Tatchell said he was held after he protested Qatar's human rights record; Qatari officials deny his claim.
Peter Tatchell
Peter Tatchell during Brighton Pride in Brighton, England, on Aug. 6.Tristan Fewings / Getty Images file

British LGBTQ activist Peter Tatchell said he was held in Qatar on Tuesday after protesting the Gulf nation's human rights record, just weeks before it is set to host the FIFA World Cup 2022.

Tatchell, who was a leading member of the Gay Liberation Front in the United Kingdom, stood outside the National Museum of Qatar for 35 minutes holding a sign that read, "Qatar arrests and subjects LGBTs to conversion," and wearing a T-shirt that said "#QatarAntiGay."

The pioneering LGBTQ rights activist said nine security officials and police officers surrounded him and one of his colleagues on the curbside and then proceeded to interrogate and hold them for 49 minutes. Officers asked for his passport, the location of where he was staying and who he was staying with, Tatchell said. He added that officers deleted images and photos off of his colleague's phone before advising them to leave the country immediately.

"I was there protesting because Qatari LGBT+ people, women and migrant workers cannot protest," Tatchell said in a phone call from a Qatari airport. "I count myself lucky. If I had been a Qatari, there's no doubt that I would be in a police cell right now and end up in prison."

Tatchell added that while he was protesting, a woman passing warned him: "You better put that away. If they catch you, they'll lock you up; you'll spend a long time in prison."

Qatar's Government Communications Office denied that Tatchell was arrested or detained, saying in a statement that Tatchell was "cordially" asked by officers to leave.

"Rumours on social media that a representative from the Peter Tatchell Foundation has been arrested in Qatar are completely false and without merit," the statement said. "We are extremely disappointed to see baseless accusations being freely reported by media outlets, without facts."

Tatchell admitted that the officers were "polite," but he said that it was clear that he was not free to immediately leave when officers approached him.

For months, human rights activists and athletes have criticized the global soccer federation FIFA for hosting its premier international competition, which begins Nov. 20, in the conservative Muslim nation, due to its treatment of LGBTQ people and women.

Qatar is one of 11 countries — including Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran — where homosexuality is punishable by death, according to Human Dignity Trust, a global advocacy group for LGBTQ rights. 

On Monday, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing six alleged cases of severe and repeated beatings and five alleged cases of sexual harassment of LGBTQ people in Qatari police custody between 2019 and this past September. The Qatari government denied the allegations made in the report.

Despite criticism over the Gulf nation's human rights record, relations between Qatar and the West have recently been on an upswing. The Gulf nation played a key role in the U.S. pullout of Afghanistan last year, helping Americans and Afghan evacuees flee the country safely.

Activists and LGBTQ lawmakers praised Tatchell's protest on Tuesday.

"What @PeterTatchell has done takes huge courage," British politician Nadia Whittome, who is a Labour member of Parliament and identifies as queer, wrote on Twitter. "His arrest in Qatar only proves his point. A brutal regime that persecutes LGBTQ people should not have been allowed to host the World Cup."

Tatchell, who protested the 2018 World Cup in Russia for similar human rights reasons, said he hopes that as the world tunes in for the international soccer competition, Qatar's record on LGBTQ issues will be on full display.

"The purpose of this protest was to shine a light on Qatar's human rights abuses," Tatchell said. "I think I've helped do that, but of course, ideally, it should be Qataris speaking out."

He added, "Many of them want to, but they're afraid of the dire consequences."

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