Qatar ‘fake news’ law signals ‘worrying regression’: Rights group

Amnesty International says new law ‘deals another bitter blow to freedom of expression’ in the country.

Doha skyline, Qatar , December 1, 2019 [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
The report said the law punishes anyone who 'broadcasts, publishes, or republishes false or biased rumors' [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

A new law in Qatar that criminalises the publication of statements deemed “false” or “biased” could lead to significant restrictions on freedom of expression, an international rights group has warned.

The law, published on Sunday, allows for imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $25,000 for broadcasting, publishing or republishing “false or biased rumours, statements or news, or inflammatory propaganda, domestically or abroad, with the intent to harm national interests, stir up public opinion, or infringe on the social system or the public system of the state”.

Amnesty International in a statement on Monday said the law was “repressive” and signals a “worrying regression”.

“Qatar already has a host of repressive laws but this new legislation deals another bitter blow to freedom of expression in the country and is a blatant breach of international human rights,” said Lynn Maalouf, research director for the Middle East at Amnesty International.

“Qatar’s authorities should be repealing such laws, in line with their international legal obligations, not adding more of them.”

Qatari authorities did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Amnesty noted that a Qatari newspaper had already been forced to remove an article recapping some of the law’s key features and issue an apology for “having stirred up argument”.

Qatar has in recent years come under scrutiny for conditions faced by its hundreds of thousands of migrant workers as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.

In 2018, Doha began easing travel restrictions on most foreign workers. Up until then, workers needed to obtain prior authorisation from their employers before leaving the country.

Qatari authorities, the following year, announced the revocation of the sponsorship (kafala) system which forced workers to obtain their employers’ permission – a no-objection certificate (NOC) – before changing jobs.

Earlier in January, Qatar said it had scrapped the restrictions on leaving the country for nearly all migrant workers as part of reforms in the run-up to the World Cup.

The measure removes exit visas for hundreds of thousands of domestic workers left out of earlier reforms – mainly from Asian nations such as Nepal, India and the Philippines – whom rights groups said were left open to abuse by being excluded.

“Now a domestic worker has the right to enter and exit the country without their employer’s permission,” Undersecretary for Labour Affairs Mohammed al-Obaidly told AFP news agency.

“We are working on a complete system of [labour] legislation.”

The announcement came after Human Rights Watch published its annual report, saying Qatari reforms “have not gone far enough, and implementation has been uneven”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies