Last Updated 7 October 2021

Qatar is an oil-rich nation on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It has been ruled by an absolute monarch since its independence in 1971.1 The Emir holds all executive and legislative powers. Qatar’s population is approximately 2.4 million, only 12% of which are citizens of Qatar. Sunni-Islam is the majority religion amongst citizens, with a small Shia community. Estimates indicate that less than half of the total population is Muslim. The biggest groups amongst non-citizens are Hindus, Roman Catholics, and Buddhists.2

The exploitation of large oil and gas fields since the 1940s helped Qatar become one of the richest countries in the region. The human rights climate remains very concerning. Qatar has had some uneasy relationships with many of its neighbors over regional conflicts of interest.

Constitution and government Education and children’s rights Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values
Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination

Constitution and government

Islam is the state religion of Qatar, and sharia is designated as the main source for legislation. Only Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are officially recognized, and non-Muslim groups are required to register to operate. At least 1,500 members are required for a group to be eligible to register.3

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.”

Legal, cultural, and institutional discrimination against, women and girls, LGBTI+people, non-Qatari nationals, certain local tribes, and other minorities is prevalent.4;

The government does not permit the formation of political parties. Restrictions on workers unionizing are in place. Only the General Union of Workers of Qatar is allowed to operate, non-citizens are entirely restricted from unionizing, as are government employees and household workers.5

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) require government approval to function, and their activities are routinely monitored. Independent activists are vulnerable to state harassment.6; , See also “The State of Qatar – Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review,” 19th Session of the UPR Working Group, by Submission by CIVICUS and Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR): One example is Najeeb al-Nuaimi, a human rights lawyer who has been subject to a travel ban since 2017.7

Judicial system

The Judiciary is not considered independent; many judges are foreign nationals on annual contracts. The Emir ultimately appoints the judges.8

Qatar’s judicial system is based on both secular and sharia laws, depending on the type of crime committed. Secular law covers issues relating to finance for instance, whilst sharia is generally applied to laws pertaining to family law, inheritance, and several criminal acts,9 and mainly applies to the Muslim population.10 Shia interpretation of sharia can be implemented upon request of the involved parties.11

The government often commutes the harsher punishments mandated by sharia.12; Charges for crimes such as alcohol consumption or extramarital sex, carry sharia punishments, that in some cases call for flogging. The death penalty is permitted, but no executions have been carried out since 2003.13 Muslims who have been convicted of a crime may be allowed to have their sentence reduced by a few months if they can learn the Quran by heart whilst in prison.14

Law enforcement is involved in issues related to morality and religious obedience, such as sexual relationships between consenting partners and the ability to eat and drink during Ramadan.

Article 267 of the 2004 Penal Code states that, anyone who eats or drinks in public during the daytime in Ramadan can be punished with up to three months in prison or be given a fine of 3,000 Qatari Riyals (820 USD).15 Restaurants outside of hotels are not allowed to open during the daytime in Ramadan.16

Article 281 of the Penal Code criminalizes consensual sex outside marriage with sentences of up to seven years in prison. Article 285 can be understood to criminalize same-sex sexual acts.17

Apostasy laws

Leaving Islam is a capital offense punishable by death in Qatar. However, since 1971 no punishment for apostasy has been recorded.18

Qatar’s Law 11 of 2004 incorporates Sharia law into various offenses, 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).”

Status of religious groups

Very few religious groups are currently officially registered in Qatar; the only registered groups at present are Sunni-Islam, Shia-Islam, and eight Christian denominations. Unregistered religious and belief groups are restricted from operating, and cannot open bank accounts, solicit funds, worship in private spaces legally, hire staff, apply for property to build places to worship, import religious texts, or publish religious newsletters or flyers.19

Non-Islamic houses of worship must be approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in coordination with the private office of the Emir. Displaying religious symbols, worshiping in public, and advertising religious services are not allowed for non-Muslims.20

The government regulates the import and distribution of religious publications. Any import of religious or belief materials requires approval from the Ministry of Culture and Sports first.21

Individuals have reported practicing self-censorship on religious topics. Proselytizing is criminalized for non-Muslims, carrying a punishment of up to 10 years in prison. However, the government’s response to such proselytization is usually deportation rather than legal action. Possession of written or recorded missionary materials can lead to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 riyals (2,700 USD).22

Recent reports have suggested that some deportations and denial of renewed residency permits for long-term residents have been linked to the religious activities of those residents.23

State Control of Religious Narrative

Qatar has strict control over the religious narrative in the country. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) controls mosques, provides spokespersons for media appearances, and heavily invests in online presence. Qatar fosters high-profile political Islamists and funds Islamic projects around the world.

All mosques and Islamic institutions in the country must be registered with the MEIA, who assigns imams to the mosques and provides them with thematic guidelines for Friday prayer. The sermon speech focuses mainly on Islamic rituals and social values, with restrictions on political topics. The government can take legal action against those who deviate from the guidance.24

Education and children’s rights

All schools have compulsory Islamic instruction, and non-Islamic religious education is prohibited. In 2019, private schools were mandated to teach Islamic studies and the Arabic language, starting from pre-school. Qatari history was made the third compulsory subject in schools.25

According to the Ministry of Education, “Non-Muslim students should be introduced to the Islamic religion, values and ethics through awareness embedded in other subjects (i.e. Qatar History) and school activities.”26

In a report looking at the school curriculum between 2016 and 2020, the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) observed:

“The Qatari curriculum appears to be in a phase of transformation. While somewhat less radical than previous versions, the process of moderation is in its infancy. Some particularly offensive material has been removed after decades of radical propaganda in Qatari schools, but the curriculum does not meet international standards of peace and tolerance.”27

The report also pointed out that the curriculum is politicized and emphasizes a conservative, hard-line interpretation of Islam, with elements of the Wahhabist creed of Salafism and the Muslim Brotherhood dominating parts. It added,

“In Islamic religious studies there is very little improvement. Jihad war, martyrdom, and violent jihadi movements are praised […] Christians are still seen as infidels (kafirun) and are expected to go to hell. Some anti-Christian material has been removed. Jew-hatred continues to be a central problem for this curriculum, while slightly less widespread than previous iterations. Israel is demonized. Textbooks teach [that] Jews control and manipulate world powers and markets.”28

The portrayal of women and gender roles in the curriculum

The curriculum often portrays women in traditional settings. for example, the Grade 10 Arabic language textbook depicts a “good” woman in a short story as pleasing to her husband, loving, and having many children, the syllabus uses quotes from Islam’s prophet to describe those positive traits in women.

The Grade 8 Islamic Education textbook teaches that men and women are created with different natures and are prohibited from imitating one another in action or dress. The book teaches that the prophet cursed those who imitate the other gender. The book makes claims that imitation of the other gender disrupts the natural order of things by destabilizing the family structure and thus society. To avoid imitation of other genders the book recommends “preserving god-given natural disposition,” and having a “correct upbringing that nurtures pride in religion.” In terms of the reasons people tend to imitate the opposite sex, the book lists: lack of awareness, absence of religious boundaries, mental issues like inferiority complex that leads to attention-seeking, and blind imitation.29

Family, community, and society

Family Law and the position of women

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

Many family and personal status and family laws specifically discriminate against women. The 2006 family law discriminates against women in marriage, divorce, nationality, inheritance, and freedom of movement. For example, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man in certain types of cases. Inheritance laws discriminate against women: A female heir receives one-half the amount of an equivalent male heir. Women require the consent of their male guardians to get married. Only men can marry out of the Muslim faith, in which case, children are required to be Muslim.30 Marital rape is not a crime, although the law forbids husbands to hurt their wives physically or morally.

According to Article 69, a married woman is not entitled to marital support if she is considered “disobedient,” i.e. if she:

“(1) If she refuses to surrender herself to the husband or to move to the marital home without legitimate reason. (2) If she leaves her marital home without legitimate reason. (3) If she prevents the husband from entering into the marital home without legitimate reason. (4) If she refuses to travel with her husband when moving to another dwelling without legitimate excuse or if she travels without his permission. (5) If she works outside the home without the permission of her husband, unless he is abusing his right in preventing her from working.”31;

Violence against women

The Protection and Social Rehabilitation Center shelter reported receiving 277 cases of physical violence against women and children and 155 cases of psychological violence in 2019.32

On 6 May 2020 during an interview on the Al Jazeera network, Dr. Ahmad al-Farjabi, a sharia expert of the ministry of Islamic affairs, said that when a man suspects his wife might become “disobedient” and “rebellious,” he should take the measures prescribed by the Quran, which include beating her. Al-Farjabi added that even Western psychologists have said that wife-beating is “inevitable” in the case of women who had been beaten while they were growing up and for women who have no respect for their husbands. He said that these kinds of women must be “subdued by muscles,” and that some kinds of women “may be reformed by beating.” Al-Farjabi also said that women at his lectures said it is preferable to beat one’s wife than to allow her to ruin the home and lose her children.33

Incitement of hatred and violence against minorities and belief groups

On 16 May 2020, Al Jazeera interview, Dr. Abdul-Jabbar Saeed, a department chair in the sharia faculty at the state-run Qatar University, cited a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad said that Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, who will hide behind rocks and trees, which will in turn call upon Muslims to kill the Jews hiding behind them. Saeed said that victory would only be achieved through sacrifice of all that is precious and through the “blood of the martyrs and over the skulls of the enemies.”34

The role of Islam Web

Islam Web is a website directly employed, funded, and managed by the government. It promotes the Salafi literalist school of Sunni-Islam, a radical interpretation of Islam considered incompatible with the promotion of co-existence. Between its establishment (by the Ministry of Islamic affairs) in 1998, and 2019 the site provided 245 thousand Fatwas (religious decrees by scholars, based on interpretations of religious text) and addressed 191 thousand inquiries on topics related to culture, family, and the youth.35 The website preaches in six languages: Arabic, English, French, Spanish, German, and soon Indonesian. According to official statements, the website receives two million visits every day.36

Trimming beards, professionally playing football, living in the West are topics that are frowned upon or prohibited. The website also condemns congratulating Christians on Christmas calling it a “dangerous trend” that is promoted under the pretext of “coexistence of religions,”, “diversity of civilizations.”37

Multiple fatwas on Islam Web are clear that insulting the prophet must be punished by death, often without giving them a chance to repent.38 Fatwa NR 8520 on apostasy says that apostates from Islam are to be killed after being offered a chance to return to Islam. The fatwa uses poetically derogatory language to insult the apostates and devalue them as human beings.39

Fatwa NR 469283 calls for death to LGBTI+ men based on quotes from the prophet. It states that,40 “the crime of sodomy is the most heinous, ugliest and dirtiest of crimes, it’s against the natural disposition.”41

Discrimination in citizenship and systemic racism

After a visit to Qatar in 2020, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, expressed “serious concerns” about structural racial discrimination against non-nationals in the country, specifically affecting South Asian and sub-Saharan African migrants.42

Roughly 71% of the population is comprised of low-income migrant workers. Government figures in December 2019 counted a total of 1.9 million migrant workers in Qatar, of which 1.77 million were men. The majority come from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Philippines, Egypt and Pakistan.43 Labour laws in Qatar create a power imbalance and climate of fear which stops migrants from raising complaints about labor violations.44 In February 2021, the Guardian newspaper revealed that 6500 workers died in Qatar since it won the bid for the 2022 World Cup.45

Long-term residents working and living in Qatar do not have a clear path for citizenship. The Qatari authorities are known to revoke or deny citizenship on an arbitrary and punitive basis, in doing so denying those individuals access to fundamental rights such as education, employment, housing, health care, property, and marriage.46Paragraph 56

In August 2021, a new election law was introduced which divides the population into three groups. Only “original” Qataris with roots in the country stemming from around 1930 are allowed to run for elections. Qatari citizens with a grandfather born in Qatar are allowed to vote only. First or second-generation naturalized citizens cannot vote.47

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Provisions of Qatar’s penal code are inconsistent with international human rights law and Qatar’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – which it recently ratified.48

According to the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by the US State Department, the government implements a policy of reviewing, censoring, or banning newspapers, magazines, books, and films for objectionable sexual, religious, and political content. Journalists and publishers practice self-censorship regarding material the government might consider contrary to Islam.49

In June 2020, the authorities interrogated several social media users about tweets that were perceived to be critical of the government. Some signed pledges to not post similar content while others had their Twitter accounts deactivated.50 In April that year, a lawyer was charged with disrupting the public interest for a video he posted criticizing Central Bank policies.51

On 4 May 2021, Malcom Bidali, a Kenyan security guard who blogged about migrant workers’ conditions in Qatar was detained and then charged with “offences related to payments received by a foreign agent for the creation and distribution of disinformation within the state of Qatar.”52 stated that “he was held in solitary confinement and interrogated without legal counsel for nearly four weeks.”53; Bidali has been released but can face up to 10 years in prison and a $4,000 fine if found guilty as charged.

Media freedom

The ruling family, and its allies, influence much of the media in Qatar and its messaging. 54 media is perceived to be subject to censorship.

The Al-Jazeera network is one of the biggest media outlets in the Middle East. Al-Jazeera is privately held but the government has reportedly financially supported its operations since it was established.55 Former Al-Jazeera employees alleged the government influences its content.56

According to Freedom House, “all journalists in Qatar practice a degree of self-censorship and face possible jail sentences for defamation and other press offenses.”57 For example, in December 2020, a columnist and social media influencer Faisal Muhamad al-Marzoqi was sentenced to three months in prison, a fine, and had his Twitter account confiscated for a tweet criticizing public figures.58

Between 2016 until 2020, the independent English-language website Doha News was blocked for allegedly not having an operating permit. The outlet changed ownership in 2017 and again in 2020 before it resumed full operations. The original Doha News staff and leadership left it, arguing that it had been stripped of its independence by the government.59

Articles by Doha news had covered topics not picked-up by state-affiliated media, These include “What it’s like to be gay and Qatari”60 and an article written by a Qatari citizen who was denied permission to marry a non-Qatari by the government.61 Both pieces were published in the months leading up to the blocking of the site.62 Around two months before the block, Doha News wrote an article63 criticizing the cybercrime law effect on journalists demanding it must be changed. In contrast, an article64 published in 2021 from Doha News celebrated press freedom in Qatar.

Expression online and cybercrime laws

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 was introduced.65 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.66 It also provides for sentences of up to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 Qatari Rial (roughly 140,000 USD). It prohibits online activity deemed to be threatening to the safety of the state, general order, local or international peace. The judicial authorities can order internet providers to block content.67

In January 2020, Qatar further strengthened its Penal Code with Article 136 bis under “Crimes against Internal State Security” stating:

“[…], whoever broadcasts or publishes or republishes rumors or statements or false or malicious news or sensational propaganda, inside or outside the state, whenever it was intended to harm national interests or incite public opinion or disturb the social or public order of the state […] shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years and a fine not exceeding (100,000) one hundred thousand riyals, or by one of these two penalties. The penalty is doubled if the crime is committed in wartime.”68

Article 134 states that:

“The penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years shall apply to any person who challenges by any public means the exercising by the Emir of his rights or authorities, or criticizes his person. The same penalty shall apply to any person who commits any of the previous offences on the deputy Emir or the Crown Prince.”69

Expression of humanist values and critical thinking

“Crimes Related to Religions and the Violability of the Dead” is a chapter in the penal code containing articles 256-267. These articles provide a set of laws that can be used to severely limit critical thought.70

Article 259 criminalizes doubts in Islamic teaching and those who favor critical thinking.71 It states, “Whoever opposes or doubts any of the basics or tenets of Islam, or calls upon, or favors or promotes another religion, cult or concept shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.” Notably the English version omits some specifics like mentioning “methods” which can be a school of thought within Sunni-Islam, instead the English version mentions “cults.” The article has additional content that was dropped in translation. It perhaps is due to the Arabic text utilizing vague language, and concepts that aren’t that easily defined. This article can be used against anyone who is seen to deviate from an orthodoxy that is left undefined. We have been unable to verify the use of this article.

Blasphemy law

The penal code criminalizes blasphemy, including insulting the “Supreme Being.”72 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:

“Whoever commits the following acts shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years:

1- Insulting Allah through writing, drawing, gesturing or in any other way or through any other means.
2- Offending, misinterpreting or violating the Holy Quran.
3- Offending the Islamic religion or any of its rites and dictates.
4- Cursing any of the divine religions according to the regulations of Islamic law.
5- Insulting any of the prophets through writing, drawing, gesturing or in any other way or through any other means.
6- Sabotaging, breaking, damaging or violating sites or their contents if they are made to perform religious rites for one of the divine religions according to the regulations of Islamic law.”73

Article 263 prohibits the circulation or production of symbols, slogans or drawings that might offend the Islamic religion:

“Whoever produces, sells, exposes for sale or circulation, or possesses products, merchandise, prints or tapes, including drawings, slogans, words, symbols, signals or anything else that may offend the Islamic religion or other divine religions according to the dictates of Islamic law, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year and a fine not exceeding one thousand Qatari Riyals (QR 1.000). The same penalty shall be imposed on any person who uses disks, computer programs or magnetized tapes to offend Islam or other divine religions according to the dictates of Islamic law.”74


2, 3, 11, 13, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 49
4, 12;
5, 7, 8, 54, 55, 57
6; , See also “The State of Qatar – Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review,” 19th Session of the UPR Working Group, by Submission by CIVICUS and Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR):
9, 10
15, 70, 71, 73, 74
27, 28, 29
32, 50, 51, 56, 58
35, 36
43, 44
46 Paragraph 56
48, 66
65, 67
69, 72

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