Six months after Qatar abolished need for an NOC to switch jobs, migrant workers tell of their continued struggle.
Doha, Qatar – A Kenyan security guard working in Qatar’s capital Doha is still in detention two weeks after his arrest as rights groups’ concerns grow over the lack of information and clarity on the charges surrounding his arrest.
A Qatari government official told Al Jazeera that Malcolm Bidali “was taken into custody and placed under investigation for violating Qatar’s security laws and regulations” on May 5.
“The individual retains all his rights under the law. All procedures of the investigation are being carried out in accordance with Qatari law,” the official added, without sharing information on the exact charges he faces.
GSS Certis International, the security firm where Bidali is employed, confirmed the arrest but did not elaborate on the circumstances around his detention or whether the authorities had been in touch with the company.
“We are aware that one of our employees has been detained by the authorities. Any questions regarding his detention should be referred to the authorities,” the company told Al Jazeera in an email.
Where is Malcolm? Malcolm Bidali, a Kenyan who wrote first hand about migrant workers in Qatar, is being held by security services. Urging the Qatari govt to reveal his whereabouts immediately. @MigrantRights @vanish_forever https://t.co/jWlDe7AKaD
— Namrata Raju (@namrataraju) May 15, 2021
Blogging under a pseudonym, Noah, the 28-year-old Bidali wrote about labour rights issues, including long working hours, issues with wages, working conditions and unsuitable accommodation and conditions at his workplace.
“We maintain a dialogue with our employees, clients and with the authorities to heighten awareness of issues related to health and safety,” GSS Certis added in its response to Al Jazeera.
The Kenyan embassy in Doha told Al Jazeera that no additional information has been provided by the government on the arrest or any charges against him.
“We were informed that he has been arrested by state security services,” Joel Mwanzia, labour attache at the Kenyan embassy in Doha, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
“Since that notification sometime last week, we have not been briefed on what action has been taken against him or if he has been produced in court.”
Just days before his arrest, Bidali, who moved to Qatar in 2016, made an online presentation to civil society groups on the state of migrant workers in Qatar, giving his experience working as a security guard there.
A spokesperson for Migrant-Rights.Org, where Bidali used to blog about life as a migrant worker in Qatar, told Al Jazeera the organisation connected with Bidali last year and “he was keen to help other workers in distress, especially during the pandemic”.
“After a few conversations, we realised he had a really strong voice and had taken the effort to educate himself on many things, including the laws of the country,” the spokesperson added.
“He then started writing about his experiences living and working in Qatar, and it always was constructive and had suggestions on how to improve things.
“His pieces were very well received. It also brought about some positive changes to their accommodation.”
The Migrant-Rights.org spokesperson added that it was “really worrying” that Malcolm had been taken by state security.
“Here is a guy who worked 12-hour shifts [not including time for commute], seven days a week, speaking about what it meant to live like this. How is this a threat.”
On Wednesday, 240 community members of Qatar Foundation, a non-profit organisation made up of more than 50 entities working in education, research, and community development, wrote to the organisation’s CEO, Sheikha Hind bint Hamad al-Thani, expressing concern over Bidali’s arrest.
Today, 240 Qatar Foundation community members sent a letter to Her Excellency Sheikha Hind Bint Hamad Al Thani asking for assistance in demanding the whereabouts and details of charges faced by @NoahArticulates, a security guard, blogger, and labor activist pic.twitter.com/BhpGO9KnUs
— Ngoc Nguyen (@ngoctriangle) May 19, 2021
Following the confirmation of his arrest last week, a coalition of organisations – Migrant-Rights.org, FairSquare, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Business & Human Rights Resource Centre – released a joint statement calling on Qatari authorities to release him.
“Since arriving in Qatar … Malcolm has been on the front line of the fight to reform Qatar’s labour laws, including by writing about his experiences as a migrant worker in the country,” the joint statement read.
“Despite our repeated requests to the Qatari authorities, we are still in the dark as to Malcolm’s location and the exact reason for his detention. If Malcolm is detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, he must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and its human rights record have been under the spotlight since it was awarded the hosting of football’s 2022 FIFA World Cup.
However, the country has carried out several labour reforms in the run-up to the mega event that takes place in November and December next year.
In August 2020, Qatar announced landmark changes to the labour law, including scrapping the need for a no-objection certificate. Earlier this year, a new minimum wage law was also introduced.
Qatar’s labour ministry has maintained it welcomes workers lodging their complaints.