Qatar releases Kenyan man charged with ‘spreading disinformation’

Bidali, a security guard who blogged about life as a migrant worker in Qatar, was charged with receiving payment ‘by a foreign agent’.

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 [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Doha, Qatar – A Kenyan national, arrested in Qatar last month and charged with “spreading disinformation”, has been released but charges against him have not been dropped, according to rights organisations.

The 28-year-old Malcolm Bidali, who works as a security guard in the capital Doha for GSS Certis, was arrested from his accommodation on May 5 and “placed under investigation for violating Qatar’s security laws and regulations”, Qatar’s Government Communication Office (GCO) said last month.

On May 30, the GCO said Bidali was “formally charged with offences related to payments received by a foreign agent for the creation and distribution of disinformation within the State of Qatar”.

Salem al-Mohannadi, the Qatari owner of GSS Certis, confirmed to Al Jazeera that the 28-year-old was released.

“He has been released but I don’t have any more details,” al-Mohannadi told Al Jazeera on Thursday. “This is a government case now. We are fully behind our country and it’s difficult to understand who is working against Qatar.”

Rights groups have voiced concern that his arrest may be in reprisal for human rights work.

Blogging under the pseudonym Noah, Bidali wrote about labour rights issues, including long working hours, issues with wages, working conditions and unsuitable accommodation and conditions at his workplace.

Earlier, Migrant-Rights.Org, where Bidali used to blog about life as a migrant worker in Qatar, confirmed that Bidali was “released from custody but the charges against him remain”.

Qatar’s government declined to comment when contacted by Al Jazeera.

It had earlier said Bidali was “receiving legal advice and representation ahead of the court date, which has not yet been set”.

In a tweet, Migrant-Rights.Org claimed that “until his release earlier this week, he had received no legal counsel”.

Last month, rights groups, including Amnesty International, said in a statement that Bidali told his mother in a phone call on May 20 that he was being held in solitary confinement and had no access to a lawyer.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) office in Doha said it was following the case “closely”.

“The Office is not in a position to comment on the charges, but it is essential that Mr Bidali receives due process,” the ILO said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera last month.

“The International Trade Union Confederation have offered to provide support for Mr Bidali’s independent legal representation, and the ILO Office will continue to monitor developments.”

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 suspicious link was also sent to him via a tweet which some experts said was a phishing attack to track down Bidali. The Twitter account has since been disabled.

A spokesperson for Migrant-Rights.Org told Al Jazeera last month the organisation connected with Bidali last year and “he was keen to help other workers in distress, especially during the pandemic”.

In a Twitter post, the organisation said: “It’s critical to underscore that none of @Noaharticulates blog posts and initiatives can be considered ‘disinformation’. The content of his advocacy was always nuanced and multi-layered, with the sole intent of improving conditions in Qatar – not maligning the country.”

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.

Source: Al Jazeera