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14 May 2021

Qatar: Kenyan worker & human rights activist Malcolm Bidali fined for spreading "false news"; NGOs call on Govt. to protect freedom of expression amid concerns around lack of due process

Photo: Ahmed_Abdel_Hamid, Getty Images via Canva Pro

I'm extremely fortunate to have gotten out (relatively) unscathed, given the selection of charges levelled against me. Outrageous charges, and an even more outrageous fine, for simply sharing our lived experiences and pointing out shortcomings of the specific entities responsible for workers' welfare, none of which translates to 'misinformation'. What I learnt from this was that a) free speech is expensive, and b) free speech is immensely effective. The latter is why so many activists and advocates do what they do, despite the very real risks involved. It's an honour for me to be counted as one.
Malcolm Bidali

On 13 May, five human rights organisations - including Migrant-Rights.org (MR), FairSquare, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Business & Human Rights Resource Centre – called on the Qatari authorities to reveal the location of Malcolm Bidali, a Kenyan human rights activist who writes about his experience of being a security guard in Qatar.

A security guard with GSS Certis, Mr Bidali was taken from his labour accommodation for questioning by state security on the evening of 4 May. The Resource Centre has previously contacted GSS Certis regarding allegations of poor living and quarantine conditions in August 2020 and March 2021, based on Mr Bidali's writing.

On 12 May the authorities confirmed Mr Bidali had been detained but did not disclose his location or whether he had received proper legal assistance.

A woman identifying herself as Mr Bidali's mother, Maggie Turner, told ITV that they still do not have any information about the place where he is being held, if he has received legal assistance or whether the Kenyan Embassy has met Mr Bidali.

GSS Certis International, the security firm where Mr Bidali is employed, has confirmed that it is aware of his detention, yet it did not provide any information regarding the conditions of his arrest. The company told Al Jazeera that any questions regarding Mr Bidali's arrest should be asked to the relevant authorities.

On 19 May, 240 community members from the Qatar Foundation, a non-profit organization made up of more than 50 entities working in education, research and community development wrote to Her Excellency Sheikha Hind bint Hamad al-Thani, the Foundation's director, expressing concern over Mr Bidali's conditions and demanding his whereabouts. Her Excellency Sheikha Hind replied to the letter indicating that she has been following the case and reached out to the relevant authorities for an update. She has been informed that Mr Bidali is well and is being afforded his rights according to the law. Her Excellency promised to continue active engagement with the authorities on the case.

On 20 May, ITV channel reported that Mr Bidali spoke with his mother over the phone for 10 minutes following an interview with the Kenyan Ambassador in Qatar. Maggie reported that he is unhurt but he is still being held in solitary confinement without legal charges and he has not been afforded access to lawyer or any legal aid yet.

On 20 May, UNI Global Union sent a letter to the Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs calling for Mr Bidali's immediate and unconditional release.

A spokesperson for MR told Middle East Eye, on 20 May, that MR has verified a suspicious link that Mr Bidali had received on social media and found it to be malicious. An investigation by Amnesty International and Citizen Lab revealed that Mr Bidali was targeted by a fingerprinting campaign. Shortly before his detention, someone replied to a tweet from Mr Bidali with a link to what appeared to be a HRW video. It is believed that the link could have identified Mr Bidali and his IP address. The investigation has also identified two more domains which may have been used in the same way but was unable to identify who targeted Mr Bidali.

On 21 May, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) requested information on the whereabouts of Mr Bidali and the charges against him. KHRC also called on the Qatari authorities to guarantee Mr Bidali's safety and to ensure that he has access to justice and a fair trial.

We invited GSS Certis and its holding company Temasek to respond to Mr Bidali's detention and asked them to set out how they protect migrant workers exercising their freedom of expression in this way. GSS Certis simply said that they were aware that one of their employees had been detained and questions should be addressed to the Qatari authorities. Temasek said that it was not involved in the governance of its portfolio companies and that we should address questions to GSS Certis. We explained that companies have responsibilities to seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impact under the UN Guiding Principles. It restated its governance structure in response. Full details of these responses are found below.

On 28 May, the above five organisations issued a press statement urging the Qatari authorities to immediately release Mr. Bidali, who appeared to have been detained for the peaceful exercise of his human rights. On 30 May Malcolm was transferred to Qatar's Public Prosecution. He has been officially charged with taking payment from foreign agent to generate disinformation in Qatar.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has condemn the charges against Malcolm and called on the authorities to drop all of them and to immediately release Malcolm.

MR said in a statement issued on 2 June, that Qatar authorities had released Malcolm from custody. However, charges against him remain.

On 16 August, Malcolm left Qatar. The five NGOs released a statement raising concerns around enjoyment of freedom of expression in Qatar, and called on the Government to reform its judicial processes, amid concerns that Malcolm's treatment stemmed solely from his human rights activism and that his abduction, forced disappearance, detention, interrogation and fine were all carried out without due process.

"GCHR calls on the government of Qatar to immediately release Bidali, drop all charges against him, and protect public freedoms, including freedom of expression, on and off the internet... The Qatari authorities, hoping for a successful organisation of the 2022 Fifa World Cup, should first fulfil all of their human rights obligations and in particular protect the civil and human rights of foreign workers."
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
“This was his life; he was breathing this thing, hoping to make a difference", His testimony drew “a lot of attention from different groups in the country and outside”.
Vani Saraswathi, Associate Editor and Director of Projects, Migrant-Rights.org
”...when we have a migrant worker speaking out about his experience, sharing his experience and calling for change in a fully peaceful manner, we see them being shut down and disappeared.”
James Lynch, Director, FairSquare
“We are alarmed by the detention of blogger Malcolm Bidali without any reason disclosed, especially given Qatari authorities’ record of trying to shut down reporting on labor rights ahead of the country’s hosting of the World Cup next year”
Justin Shilad, Senior Middle East and North Africa researcher, Committee to Protect Journalists
"Whilst it is wonderful to have heard from Malcolm, and to know he is all right, there is further work to do relating to the above outstanding issues"
Maggie Turner, mother of Malcolm Bidali
"We believe that Mr. Bidali is imprisoned for his documentation of inhumane housing and working conditions, such as crowding ten people into a room, grueling schedules, and cuts to income. For this reason, we are calling for his immediate & unconditional release."
UNI Global Union

Company Responses

Temasek View Response
GSS Certis (Certis subsidiary) View Response

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