Last Updated 17 September 2018

Qatar has about 2 million residents, only 10% of them are citizens and 1.5 million of them are expatriates. Islam is the majority religion, with 90% Sunni Muslims and a small Shia community. The non-citizens belong to Islam, Hinduism (35%), Christianity (20%) or Buddhism (7%). With the exploitation of large oil and gas fields since the 1940s, Qatar is now one of the richest countries in the region. The human rights climate there remains deeply concerning, particularly for the large and growing migrant worker population and for those concerned with the right to freedom of thought. Qatar is a member of the League of Arab States (LAS), as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination

Constitution and government

Islam is the state religion of Qatar (Article 1), and its legislation draws from a mix of Sharia and secular laws. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are recognized by the law, no other belief system enjoys such recognition. Religious groups are required to register, while Sunni and Shia Muslims are allowed to practice freely. To be recognised the group must have at least 1,500 members in Qatar. Non-Abrahamic religions are not allowed to register.

Custom outweighs government enforcement of laws banning religious discrimination, and legal, cultural, and institutional discrimination is prevalent. Whilst Qatar’s constitution and other laws provide for freedom of association, public assembly, and worship, these freedoms are framed within limits based on sharia law and “morality concerns”.

Converting to another religion from Islam is considered apostasy and remains a capital offense in Qatar. A blasphemy accusation could be taken as evidence of apostasy. However since 1971 no punishment for apostasy has been recorded.

Proselytizing on behalf of an organization, society, or foundation of any religion other than Islam can be punished by up to 10 years in prison, and the proselytization of any religion other than Islam on one’s own behalf can be punished with a sentence of up to five years. However, the government’s response to such proselytization is usually deportation rather than legal action.

Muslims who have been convicted of a crime may be given the opportunity to have their sentence reduced by a few months if they can memorize the Quran whilst in prison.

Education and children’s rights

Muslims attending state-sponsored schools must receive Islamic instruction. Private schools can be secular and co-educational; most expatriate children attend such secular private schools.

Family, community and society

The unified court system applies Sharia in family law cases and has jurisdiction over both Muslims and non-Muslims. Non-Muslims have recourse to civil law for some personal status cases, however, cases of child custody are judged under Islamic law.

The family law discriminates women in relation to marriage, divorce, nationality and freedom of movement. Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim men, and whilst a non-Muslim woman can marry a Muslim man, their children are required to be Muslim. Article 36 states that women need the agreement of their male guardian to sign a marriage contract. Marital rape is not a crime, although the law forbids husbands to hurt their wives physically or morally (Article 57). However, Article 58 states, that women have to obey their husbands.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The ruling family, and its allies, control much of the media output in Qatar, this despite the constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression.

Provisions of Qatar’s penal code are inconsistent with international free speech standards. For instance, Article 134 prescribes a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment for anyone who is convicted of criticizing the Emir or Vice-Emir. In 2011 a Qatari poet, Mohammed al-Ajami, was arrested and charged with insulting the then-Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and “inciting to overthrow the ruling system”. Under Qatari law, the latter charge is punishable by death. In 2012, he was handed a life-sentence. This was later reduced to 15 years in prison.

Death for “apostasy” law

Qatar’s Law 11 of 2004 incorporates Sharia law into various offences, including apostasy. Article 1 states:

“the provisions of Islamic law for the following offenses are applied if the defendant or victim is a Muslim:

1. The hudud offenses related to theft, banditry, adultery, defamation, alcohol consumption, and apostasy.
2. The offenses of retaliation (qisas) and blood money (diyah).”

Qatar has apparently not imposed any penalty for this offense since its independence in 1971, though it remains on statute.

Prison for “blasphemy” law

The penal code criminalizes blasphemy (Article 256), including insulting the “Supreme Being”. The defamation or desecration of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Article 256 of the penal code states:

“It is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years, anyone who commits the following acts:

1. Insulting or challenging the Supreme Being verbally or in writing, or with drawing or gesturing, or any other means.
2. Abusing, distorting, or desecrating the Holy Koran.
3. Offending the Islamic religion or one of its rituals.
4. Insulting any of the divine religions protected by Islamic law.
5. Insolence towards any of the Prophets verbally, or in writing, drawing, gesture, or any other means.
6. Sabotaging, breaking, damaging, or desecrating buildings, or their contents, if they are used for celebrating the rituals of any of the divine religions protected by Islamic law.”

Article 263 further states that the circulation or production of symbols, slogans or drawings that might offend the Islamic religion will be punished with one year of prison or a fine of 1000 riyals ($275).

Internet censorship of peaceful expression of religious views has been reported in the country with the state blocking sites that contain content perceived as anti-Islamic. The law also prohibits, in vague terms, publication of texts provoking social discord or religious strife.

Press freedom

In 2014, in what was widely considered a significant setback for freedom of expression in Qatar, a new cybercrimes law criminalizing the spreading of “false news” on the internet. The new law allows the authorities to ban websites that they consider threatening to the “safety” of the country and punish anyone who posts or shares online content that “undermines” Qatar’s “social values” or “general order”. The meaning of these terms is not defined by the new legislation.

State-funded and private media contains sometimes anti-Semitic remarks or cartoons and draw no legal reaction.

Highlighted cases

In 2013, a Nepali teacher, Dorje Gurung, was arrested and detained on the charge of “insulting Islam” in some remarks he made to his students at Qatar Academy. After an online petition calling for his release (which gathered nearly 14,000 signatures) and an international campaign was launched, Gurung was released.

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