Human rights groups warn of ‘serious issues’ as Qatar World Cup worker jailed
A former World Cup 2022 worker has failed in his appeal against a controversial jail sentence in Qatar, which he believes came about because he criticised the Supreme Committee for its handling of a migrant workers strike.
The decision to jail Abdullah Ibhais, a former senior World Cup 2022 media manager, for three years has sparked fierce condemnation from human rights groups, who say that he was coerced into a confession – and a counter-claim from the authorities.
Human Rights Watch and FairSquare say there is no evidence of wrongdoing on Ibhais’s part and have also repeatedly criticised Fifa for its unwillingness to intervene in his case, saying it has enabled the Qatari authorities.
However Qatar insists Ibhais, who has been on hunger strike for 31 days, was jailed for soliciting bribes and not for speaking out against the Supreme Committee, which is responsible for organising the 2022 World Cup.
Speaking after the verdict, Nicholas McGeehan, co-director of FairSquare, who has spent years investigating human rights in Qatar, said the decision raised serious concerns.
“This case goes to the heart of the serious issues with Qatar’s World Cup and every day Abdullah Ibhais remains in jail more people will know his name, know what he did for the migrant workers who built Qatar’s World Cup, and know the price he has apparently paid for that,” he said.
“Did he get a fair trial? Absolutely not. Did Fifa make a call for a fair trial? No, they didn’t, which I think is pretty scandalous,” he added. “It was Qatar’s World Cup organisers who instigated this prosecution, but it was Fifa’s silence that enabled today’s verdict, for which there is no evidence other than a forced confession.”
Qatar’s authorities insist that Ibhais, who was removed from his role in 2019, was sentenced on fraud charges relating to a contract to produce social media content for the 2022 World Cup.
A Qatari official said: “The court of appeal has upheld its guilty verdict in the case of Mr Abdullah Ibhais. He was convicted following the careful examination of an abundance of strong and credible evidence against him for soliciting bribes to influence the outcome of a state-funded procurement process. This evidence included extensive details of the crime – much more than the defendant’s own confession.”
A statement from the Supreme Committee said that Ibhais received his full salary from the date of his suspension in November 2019 until August 2020, when he was made redundant along with numerous others as part of a budget restructuring exercise.
It also claimed that Ibhais had reapplied to work for it in March 2021 via a third-party agency.
“Ibhais’s post-conviction allegations that the SC conspired against him because of his views on migrant workers are ludicrous, defamatory, and absolutely false,” it said. “The SC’s work culture promotes and encourages staff raising issues and grievances, and particularly on the subject in question (worker welfare).”
However human rights groups insist that the Qataris have not been able to present any evidence of wrongdoing against Ibhais.
“In contrast, Abdullah claims that he took a stance on workers’ rights internally, he has got evidence to support that,” said McGeehan. “He provided us with a very clear explanation of what happened in this case, before it went public, and all of that has been borne out by the documentation that we have subsequently seen.
“We have seen the court’s judgment. We have seen the fact that the judge refused to investigate Abdullah’s allegations of a coerced confession. So when you compare the evidence presented by the Supreme Committee and the Qatari authorities on one hand, which is essentially none, and the evidence by Abullah, of which there is plenty. It leaves the Qataris and Supreme Committee with serious questions to answer.”
A Fifa spokesperson did not respond to questions about its lack of an intervention in the case. However in a statement football’s governing body said: “Any person deserves a trial that is fair, where due process is observed and respected.
“Fifa has been following the case involving Mr Ibhais and notes the statements from the government communications office in Qatar and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy in relation to the court’s decision,” it added. “Fifa will consider today’s ruling before making any further comment.”