Qatar has accused a Kenyan immigrant who wrote about his life as a security guard in that wealthy Gulf emirate of receiving money to spread disinformation. Malcolm Bidali, who blogged under a pseudonym, has spent a month in detention before being released on bail. His case, denounced by several human rights organizations, calls into question the freedom of expression and the living conditions of low-income foreign workers in the host country of the next soccer World Cup in 2022.
“Mr. Malcolm Bidali has been released on bail. The procedure is continuing ”, a Qatari source with knowledge of the case tells MRT. The same interlocutor affirms that “the ILO [Organización Internacional del Trabajo] it has provided him with a lawyer, in coordination with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) ”. An ILO spokesperson, whose office in Doha is following the matter, specified in an exchange of messages that it is not the ILO, but the ITUC that “is providing support for the independent legal defense of Mr. Bidali.” Although the office does not comment on the allegations, it considers “essential that it has a fair process.”
Migrant Rights, an organization that promotes the rights of migrant workers in the Middle East and whose website hosted the activist’s blog, confirmed his release in the middle of last week, but notes that until then “he had not received legal aid.” Also remember that your complaint is upheld. “The accusations against him are only intended to silence him and all charges related to his activism must be dropped,” the group requested in a tweet.
Bidali, 28, was arrested on May 4, although the Qatari authorities did not recognize him until eight days later and only on the 20th did they allow him to receive a visit from the Kenyan ambassador and make a call to his mother. The week before his arrest, the activist had described his experiences in a videoconference with various civil society groups and trade union organizations. Hours later, he was the target of a spoofing attack (phishing) that revealed his IP address (a unique address that identifies the connection) and possibly his location, according to Amnesty International (AI).
“Although we cannot confirm who was responsible for the attack by phishing to Malcolm Bidali, his arrest shortly afterwards suggests that he was the target for his activism, “says AI in a statement also signed by Migrant Rights, Fair Square, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Business & Human Rights Resoruce Center.
Dissidents and political opponents have been the target of similar actions in other Gulf monarchies. According to the experts, to achieve their objective, these operations require access to confidential information that the telephone companies only hand over to the authorities or security agencies of the country concerned.
The Qatari Government Communication Office reported on May 29 that Bidali had been “formally charged with crimes relating to payments received from a foreign agent to create and distribute disinformation within the State of Qatar.” The statement does not provide data to support the claim.
The aforementioned human rights organizations insist that “there is no evidence that he is detained for anything other than his legitimate defense of human rights: for exercising his freedom of expression and highlighting the treatment that Qatar gives to migrant workers” . Doha amended its penal code last year to punish anyone who publishes “rumors, statements, false or malicious news or sensationalist propaganda” with up to five years in prison and a 100,000 Qatari riyals (€ 22,500) fine, according to HRW.
Bidali came to Qatar for the first time in 2016. With what he earned he tried to start a business in his native Kenya, but was unsuccessful. So in September 2018 he returned hired as a security guard by GSS Certis International (GSSCI), a labor company. He worked 12-hour shifts, 26 days a month. Nothing unusual among the migrant workers who make up the vast majority of Qatar’s 2.8 million people, or in any of the other monarchies on the Arabian peninsula. In none of those countries are trade unions allowed.
But this Kenyan, one of the 50,000 who work in Qatar, decided to share the hardships of his life as an immigrant and a year ago he began writing articles under the pseudonym Noah for the organization Migrants Rights. Already in its first text, Your home is where your employer decides, Bidali explained the conditions in which they are accommodated: up to 8 and 10 people crammed into small rooms of 16 square meters, and even taking advantage of the living room to place more bunk beds. “There are four bathrooms for 54 of us,” he noted.
Since its election to host the 2022 Soccer World Cup, Qatar has yielded to international pressure to improve conditions for migrant workers. Last year it introduced the first non-discriminatory minimum wage in the Middle East and announced a labor reform that eliminates the employer’s permission to change jobs, a step that according to the ILO “dismantles” the controversial sponsorship system. (kafala) that works in all the monarchies of the Gulf. However, according to activists, the local business community rejects it and the government is not being strict in its application.
Bidali’s testimony questioned those advances. But his latest project went further and directly targeted Sheikh Mozah, mother of the current emir and president of the Qatar Foundation, an organization that declares itself dedicated to “promoting human potential” and that since 2013 has had a code of “standards of welfare for migrant workers ”. “You’d think those rules would come true wherever you put your feet,” says the blogger before admitting his disappointment.
Between February and March of this year, Bidali / Noah reported on Twitter the abuses suffered by his colleagues assigned to Msheireb Properties, an entity of the Qatar Foundation. Using the 26 letters of the English alphabet to protect their identities, he said that “S works 12 hours a day, does not receive a supplement for the four overtime hours, earns 1,250 Qatari riyals”, the equivalent of 280 euros, well below the minimum wages for Qataris and Western expatriates. He also revealed that “W has not yet received a copy of his contract after one year and three months.”
At the end of Z’s case, he explained that, during a visit by the sheikh to Msheireb Properties at the beginning of last July, “the guards were forced to stand outside from two hours before their arrival to three hours after their arrival. departure without rest ”. As of that day, he denounces, those responsible stopped applying the prohibition to work abroad between 11:30 and 15:00 during the summer, when the thermometer exceeds 50º C. This year the Government has just extended that period in one hour, from 11 a.m. to 3.30 p.m., and several weeks, from the beginning of June to mid-September. But Bidali / Noah will not be able to testify if it applies to their peers.
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