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17 Dec, 2021 14:09

Whistleblower on alleged Qatar abuses learns fate in bid to avoid years in prison

Whistleblower on alleged Qatar abuses learns fate in bid to avoid years in prison

Qatari officials have insisted a former 2022 World Cup employee who raised concerns over migrant workers was given a fair trial after he appealed over a three-year prison sentence for corruption.

Human rights campaigners have accused FIFA of failing to ensure a fair trial after Abdullah Ibhais, who was employed as a media manager as part of the preparations for the World Cup, was found guilty of misappropriating state funds by a court in Doha.

The Jordanian national claims he was forced to sign a confession by security forces and was being punished for criticizing how a migrant workers' strike was handled.

But his appeal has failed and officials are adamant he was convicted due to "an abundance of strong and credible evidence".

In October 2019, Ibhais' employer, Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said it received a complaint that alleged corrupt activity had been carried out by a third-party participant in relation to a contract tied to the management of its social media platforms.

At the conclusion of an internal investigation, Ibhais and another employee were suspended on full pay while its findings were delivered to the Qatari authorities.  

As reported by FairSquare and Human Rights Watch, Ibhais was first arrested in November that year on the basis of allegations he took part in activities that aimed to harm "the state or its security".

According to what Ibhai told them, he was coerced into confessing to lesser charges and denied access to a lawyer.

Later retracting his confession during the trial, the court refused to invalidate it and found him guilty in April 2021 of bribery, violation of the integrity of tenders and profits and intentional damage to public funds, which saw him sentenced to a five-year prison term, later reduced to three years. 

In November, Ibhais was taken into custody once more just before he was set to be interviewed by two journalists who police also detained for 30 hours for allegedly trespassing on private property and filming without a permit. 

The Norwegian reporters were attempting to highlight the plight of migrant workers in the country, and Ibhais believes that his criticism of how the Supreme Committee handled an August 2019 strike by the laborers over unpaid wages is the real motive for his prosecution.

On Friday, the i released an investigative report claiming that thousands of migrant workers are still facing human rights violations including unpaid wages, being threatened with deportation by employers and not receiving fair working hours or regular days off.

Qatar denies mistreatment of migrant workers lodged by Amnesty International and other rights groups.

One journalist claimed that Ibhais' hearing, for which he is said not to have been present, lasted less than a minute, but his accusers insist the case "followed all the proper legal procedures and protocols".

The evidence against Ibhais allegedly "included extensive details of the crime – much more than the defendant's own confession".

"The State of Qatar rejects in the strongest possible terms any assertion that the ruling was influenced by factors other than its unwavering commitment to justice and the rule of law," it added.

Ibhais' former employers claimed that allegations the case was linked to his views regarding the treatment of migrant workers were "ludicrous, defamatory, and absolutely false".

A FIFA spokesperson said the governing body had been following the case and would consider the ruling over Ibhais before making any further comment, adding: “Any person deserves a trial that is fair, where due process is observed and respected."

Nicholas McGeehan, FairSquare's co-director, said"Every day Abdullah Ibhais remains in jail more people will know his name, know what he did for the migrant workers who built Qatar's World Cup, and know the price he has apparently paid for that.

"It was Qatar's World Cup organizers who instigated this prosecution but it was FIFA's silence that enabled today's verdict."

"The spotlight on the Qatari justice system & abuse of its migrant workers will only intensify," FairSquare also predicted.

A February report by the Guardian claimed that 6,5000 migrant workers have died while constructing stadiums for the World Cup, but Supreme Committee General HassanAl Thawadi says these figures are "inherently misleading".

Amid calls to boycott the finals, numerous national football teams have worn protest t-shirts, and Denmark will ditch training kit sponsors to make way for human rights messages. 

England national team boss Gareth Southgate has pledged that they will stay in touch with Amnesty International after the organization said it is "more important than ever" for the Euro 2020 finalists' players to discuss human rights. 

The tournament will take place between November 21 and December 18 2022.