A Kenyan security guard, who blogged about the plight of migrant workers, was also charged with taking “foreign money” to spread disinformation.
With dreams of alleviating hunger in the African region, Malcolm Bidali left his job in Qatar in 2016 to try and start a greenhouse farm in his home country, Kenya.
The 28-year-old says in his blog that he was compelled by an “intense calling” to chase his dreams.
After about two years in Kenya trying to pursue his goals, he found himself in debt and his savings depleted. Bidali was left with no option but to look for work abroad.
He moved back to Qatar in September 2018 to work as a security guard.
On the side, using his pen name Noah, Bidali wrote for the London-based advocacy group Migrant-Rights.org on conditions faced by migrant workers in the Gulf nation, “hoping to make a difference”, according to the group.
His blog posts largely touched upon migrants' poor working conditions in Qatar — from low pay to delayed wages and long working hours.
Fast forward to May 2021, Bidali is now facing charges in Qatar for allegedly taking “foreign money” to spread disinformation.
On May 4, Qatar’s security services picked him up from his accommodation for questioning. A few days later, Qatari authorities confirmed he was in their custody, not revealing his whereabouts.
Although he was released on June 2, the charges against him weren't dropped. He will be still investigated for “offences related to payments received by a foreign agent for the creation and distribution of disinformation within the state of Qatar.”
A spokesperson for Migrant-rights.org told TRT World that his company, GSS Certis, was asked to hand him over to the authorities.
“Bidali was held in solitary confinement and interrogated without legal counsel for nearly four weeks,” the spokesperson said.
“It is really an attempt to stymie an independent and nuanced voice. None of what he wrote was inaccurate. He was nuanced and constructive, offering solutions to problems faced by workers”.
Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera however reported the country's National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) was given "unrestricted access" to Bidali and that he was “treated properly”.
The Gulf country amended its penal code in 2020, making the dissemination of “false news” that would “harm national interest, stir up public opinion or infringe the social or the public system” a punishable offence.
Rights groups say the “vaguely-worded” law restricts freedom of expression in Qatar and criminalizes speech and publishing activities.
A week before his arrest, Bidali gave a presentation to a group of civil society organisations and trade unions about his experiences working in Qatar, according to Amnesty International.
‘They’ve hit out at someone with the least power’
Qatar has faced tough criticism from human and labour rights organisations over its treatment of migrant workers after it was awarded to host football’s 2022 FIFA World Cup.
It has since carried out several labour reforms. But rights groups say the country should do more to improve its poor record on workers’ rights.
“Qatar has made progress with reforms and engaging with international unions and organizations, however what has happened to Malcolm negates all that,” the spokesman for Migrant-Rights.org said.
“They’ve hit out at someone with the least power within this system. Malcolm’s column for Migrant Rights and his personal social media activism actually showed Qatar in a good light in terms of allowing criticism and activism.”
Qatar’s Government Communication Office (GCO) said last month that Bidali was “placed under investigation for violating Qatar’s security laws and regulations”, as quoted by Al Jazeera.
Amnesty International has called for all charges stemming from his human rights work to be dropped.
“Malcolm Bidali is a courageous activist whose blogs were a reflection of his experiences as a migrant worker in Qatar,” the rights group said in a tweet on May 3.
“He has already suffered shocking ill-treatment for standing up for human rights, and must not suffer further abuse.”
If convicted, Bidali could face up to 10 years in prison and a 15,000 Qatari Riyal ($4,000) fine.