Testimony provided to the international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed shocking accounts of abuse suffered by gay, bisexual and transgender people in Qatar.
With the World Cup in Qatar now less than a month away, members of the LGBTQ community there have detailed their experiences at the hands of Qatar's Preventive Security Department, an opaque security force whose duties include upholding law and order in the Gulf state.
A bisexual woman in Qatar, a country where homosexuality is illegal, claims she was beaten until she lost consciousness. A transgender woman explained how she was forced to remove makeup from her face, while another transgender woman recalled how she was kept in solitary confinement and had her hair shaved off.
A third transgender woman told HRW how she was accused of "imitating women" and given a bloody nose and lips in a police car on her way to a detention center.
"I saw many other LGBT people detained there: two Moroccan lesbians, four Filipino gay men, and one Nepalese gay man," said the woman. "I was detained for three weeks without charge, and officers repeatedly sexually harassed me. Part of the release requirement was attending sessions with a psychologist who 'would make me a man again.'"
In total, HRW said it had documented six cases of "severe and repeated beatings" and five cases of sexual harassment of people who were in police custody between 2019 and 2022. All the transgender detainees were allegedly mandated to attend conversion therapy sessions.
In response to HRW's findings, a Qatari government official told DW that the allegations "contain information that is categorically and unequivocally false," adding that "the Qatari government does not operate or license any 'conversion centers.'
"The rehabilitation clinic mentioned in the report supports individuals suffering from behavioral conditions such as substance dependence, eating disorders and mood disorders, and operates in accordance with the highest international medical standards."
The official added: "Qatar does not tolerate discrimination against anyone, and our policies and procedures are underpinned by a commitment to human rights for all.
"The claims were not brought to our attention until they were first reported in the media. If Human Rights Watch had contacted us, we would have been able to disprove the allegations."
World is watching
Activists have been critical of the lack of LGBTQ reform in Qatar, and these latest revelations will raise further questions.
"While Qatar prepares to host the World Cup, security forces are detaining and abusing LGBT people simply for who they are, apparently confident that the security force abuses will go unreported and unchecked," said Rasha Younes, a HRW researcher who specializes in LGBTQ rights. "The world is watching."
Nasser Mohamed, an openly gay Qatari activist who sought political asylum in the United States over fears he would be persecuted for his sexuality back home, connected those who testified with HRW.
Earlier this month, Mohamed told the Press Association that he thought LGBTQ fans in Qatar could be subject to "gay bashing" from locals because security forces don't have the resources to keep them safe.
"You're now bringing LGBT fans to a bubble that is trained to gay-bash and has not seen LGBT visibility before and would perceive it as an attack," he said.
"I really don't think there are going to be people to protect them if they do get attacked, so I really worry more about the public attacking them than the officials."
All are welcome
World Cup organizers have insisted that all fans will be welcome in Qatar, irrespective of their sexuality, and say that rainbow flags, a symbol of the LGBTQ community, will be permitted at the tournament.
However, an official responsible for World Cup security told the Associated Press earlier this year that fans could have their rainbow flags confiscated for their own safety. Qatar's emir — during a visit to Germany in May — said that "we expect and want people to respect our culture."
Such comments mean many LGBTQ fans will stay away. Dario Minden of the German Unsere Kurve fan group, who made headlines in September for urging Qatar's ambassador to Germany to abolish the death penalty for homosexuality, told DW he wouldn't be going to the tournament and "will not watch a single minute."
"The direction the football business has taken is so tremendously wrong, I'm sick of it," Minden said.
"If global football wants to be an ally of queer people, it needs to prove it not by showing rainbow colors in situations where it's easy. It has to prove it when it comes to questions of morals and money. No World Cup should be hosted in a place where not being heterosexual is criminalized."
HRW researcher Younes told DW that although she thought it was unlikely Qatari authorities would arrest LGBTQ fans during the World Cup, she still had concerns.
"The accounts documented by Human Rights Watch signal the impunity with which security forces carry out human rights abuses, including against LGBTQ people," Younes said.
"Combined with Qatar's repressive climate around free expression, this impunity warrants concern for the safety of LGBTQ people."
FIFA, world football's governing body, didn't initially respond to a request for comment and didn't address HRW's allegations directly.
After publication, the organization wrote in a statement that Qatar was fully aware of FIFA's human rights requirements and was "committed to ensuring that everyone will be able to enjoy the tournament in a safe and welcoming environment (...) including members of the LGBTIQ+ community."
Edited by: Matt Ford