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15 Nov 2021

Qatar 2022: Ex-World Cup organiser employee threatens hunger strike over lack of due process & bribery conviction in alleged reprisal over whistleblowing on 2019 worker strike; incl. FIFA's response

In 2019, Abdullah Ibhais was media and communications director for the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the organisation partnering with FIFA and responsible for delivering the 2022 World Cup. Abdullah Ibhais is facing a prison sentence of five years, accused of misuse of money and accepting a bribe for awarding a contract, allegations that Ibhais maintains are retaliation for his criticism of the organisation's handling of a large strike in August 2019. Workers from Iskan and Tashgeel (the companies that employed the striking workers) were deployed on three World Cup stadiums: Education City Stadium, Al Thumama Stadium and Al Bayt Stadium, as detailed in Josimar's October article.

As reported in Josimar and Sportschau, whatsapp communications between senior management at the Supreme Committee and Ibhais demonstrate Ibhais pushed back against a suggestion that the Supreme Committee deny publicly that their workers were involved in the strike.

On 12 November 2019 Ibhais was reportedly called to a meeting by the Supreme Committee's Human Resources director where officers from the Criminal Investigations Department arrested him and interrogated him in an interview during which he was allegedly threatened with a state security prosecution, prevented from accessing a lawyer and coerced into signing a confession. HRW report Ibhais did not receive legal assistance for nine months after his initial arrest and was released on 21st December; he received his sentence 19 April 2021, which he appealed.

NGOs Human Rights Watch and FairSquare have called on the Qatari authorities to ensure a fair trial for Ibhais, arguing that as he has not had full access to his lawyer, the evidence against him, the time and resources to prepare for the trial, and that evidence obtained under duress has been used in the conviction, the trial cannot be considered fair. Founder and Director of FairSquare, Nicholas McGeehan, has described the case as an illustration of the Supreme Committee's role as "a facade to obscure the day-to-day reality of migrant worker abuses from the international media".

A statement from the Supreme Committee can be read in full within the article on Josimar. On 8th November 2021, Josimar stated that they had received a letter from "a law firm representing the Supreme Committee... threatening to take legal actions" over their reporting; the letter and Josimar's response can be read in full below.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre have invited FIFA to respond to the case; their response can be read below.

On 15th November 2021, journalist Benjamin Best reported that Ibhais called him from police detention. While a hearing to appeal his sentence is scheduled for 23rd November, Ibhais believes the police have executed the sentence as a result of the media coverage of his case. Ibhais was reportedly due to give an interview to the Norwegian state broadcaster on 15th November.

Qatari authorities appear to have robbed Abdullah Ibhais of his right to a fair trial in proceedings that raise serious concerns about Qatar’s justice system. The authorities should immediately investigate allegations that his confession was coerced and whether the Supreme Committee used the justice system to retaliate against an employee for internal criticism.
Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch
Sending a key staff member for the World Cup’s Supreme Committee to languish in prison following a grossly unfair trial could cast a dark cloud over the event.
Nicholas McGeehan, founding director at FairSquare Research and Projects

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