BBC News is reporting that two British human rights investigators are missing in Qatar. Krishna Upadhyaya, 52, and Gundev Ghimire, 36, are British citizens working for Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD), a Norwegian human rights group, and were conducting research for a report on labor conditions in Qatar. The two men, who arrived in the country on August 27th, have been out of contact since last weekend, when Upadhyaya sent a number of texts to a friend in Norway stating that he and Ghimire were being tailed by Qatari police. One text reads, “I am being followed by the police here. Looks like they will give me troubles now.” On August 31st, the men checked out the Grand Hyatt hotel in Doha, but were reportedly afraid to depart for the airport due to the heavy presence of both undercover and uniformed police officers. Upadhyaya checked in for his flight, but did not board, and neither man has been heard from since.
Though the Qatari government denies any involvement in the disappearance of these investigators, and there is no clear evidence as to the location of the missing men, GNRD project manager Fahad Atalla told the AP that the group is “99 percent sure they’ve been taken by the Qatari government authorities.” The GNRD’s official statement has a similar tone. Qatar has a history of detaining activists and critics incommunicado for extended periods of time. One example is when in 2011, poet Muhammed al-Ajami was arrested in Doha and charged with inciting to “overthrow the ruling system” and “insulting the Amir,” due to poetry he’d written criticizing Qatar’s Amir and Middle Eastern governments in general. He was held for months in isolation, out of contact with his family before visits were finally granted. On November 29th, 2012, al-Ajami was sentenced to life in prison following a secretive and irregular trial, though this sentence was reduced the following February to fifteen years. An Amnesty International letter urging action following a failed appeal of this sentence states:
“Since 2011, State Security, which runs its own detention facilities, has detained a number of people, some of them for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Most of those detained by State Security have reported torture and other ill-treatment during periods of detention prior to charge or trial, particularly during periods of incommunicado detention. Activists in Qatar have lately raised concerns that there has been a pattern of State Security personnel, generally operating in plain clothes, not identifying themselves when carrying out arrests and holding detainees in police detention centers and not in facilities run by them. The aim appears to be to deny responsibility for carrying out particular arrests and detentions and thereby to deflect criticism about their working practices.”
Qatar has been under recent scrutiny following its selection as the host for the 2022 World Cup. John Oliver does a pretty good job of summarizing why in this clip (skip to around 10:16 for the stuff about Qatar):
Yes, Qatar is actually that bad. Upadhyaya and Ghimire had been researching the working conditions faced by migrant laborers from their mutual birth country of Nepal before their disappearance. Qatar has a migrant population of 1.35 million, which comprises 94% of the country’s total work force. Many of these workers find employment in the Qatari construction industry, but immediately encounter significant problems. Workers are often required to pay vast fees to obtain a job, but then paid very low wages, averaging $8-11 a day, which is not enough to cover food costs or to pay back the loans necessitated by the employment fees. 20% are paid significantly less than promised when accepting the job, and though poor workplace safety leads to many deaths, government labor inspections are few and far between. 90% of migrant workers have had their passports or visas kept by their employers, which means that they cannot leave the country freely.
The Qatari Labor Ministry denied accusations of modern-day slavery in a response to Human Rights Watch, saying: “The Ministry has received no complaint of forced labor, and it is inconceivable that such a thing exists in Qatar, as the worker may break his contract and return to his country whenever he wishes, and the employer cannot force him to remain in the country against his will.”
Just in case this wasn’t depressing enough, in July of this year, the U.S. happened to sell $11 million of military weapons, including Apache helicopters and various missiles, to Qatar. Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby stated that the “signing ceremony underscores the strong partnership between the United States and Qatar in the area of security and defense and will help improve our bilateral cooperation across a range of military operations.”