DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (UAE) – A Kenyan man who falsely wrote a forced shipment to Qatar about the challenges of life as a low-wage worker defending their rights has been arrested in an energy-rich country under unclear circumstances.
The arrest of Malcolm Bidali once again draws attention to the expression of the nation that will host the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022. It highlights the challenge that migrant workers face when agreeing to a stable job in the Arab Gulf states, working hard for long-term shifts in the shadow of the skyscrapers they have built.
Supporters say Qatari security forces detained Bidali on May 4 without providing information on his whereabouts.
The Qatari government, in response to questions from The Associated Press on Tuesday, described Bidali as “under arrest and under investigation for violating Qatari security laws and regulations.” The government declined to provide details on where he was detained, where he was being held, whether he had received consular assistance, and what possible charges he was facing.
Qatar has “taken many steps to improve its operating systems,” said James Lynch, head of the London-based FairSquare Research and Projects group, which advocates for migrant workers. “However, when we have a migrant worker who speaks out about his or her experience, shares his or her experience, calls for change in a completely peaceful way, we see them shut down and disappear.”
Bidal, 28, worked 12 hours as a security guard. In his spare time, he wrote under the name “Noah” about his experience as a guard, including trying to improve the accommodation of his employees. From time to time, his essays portrayed Qatar as “shaping many directions.”
However, he did not hesitate to describe the narrow bedrooms that some of his compatriots shared in the room until 10 men enjoyed themselves.
“Why should intimacy, even family life, be reserved for privileged nations, financially rich?” he asked in an article.
The reason for Bidali’s arrest remains unclear. A few days ago, he spoke and was briefly filmed in a video conference with civil society and trade union groups describing his experience. Activists say he clicked on a suspicious Internet link during that time. The Arab states of the Persian Gulf widely use spyware և hackers to control possible dissidents, but it is unclear who targeted him.
There was a recent post in which he criticized Sheikha Moza, the wife of the former Emir of Qatar, the head of the Qatar Foundation, Nisser. Bidali has worked as a GSS Certis security guard in a development program under the Qatar Foundation. The foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
An employee of GSS Certis, who gave his name as Puvan, said he did not know where Bidal was.
“We were told that this is still under investigation, so you have no details about it,” he said.
In Qatar, security officials at both companies also recently went on strike, which they described as strikes over wage and labor issues. According to the Washington-based Freedom House group, Qatari citizens, members of the General Union of Qatari Workers, have the right to strike.
A recent Freedom House report said foreign workers and households were helping “those who are participating in labor protests are being deported.” The Qatari government has said it has intervened in both cases.
The Kenyan embassy in Qatar did not respond to requests for comment. The letter to Qatari human rights groups, including Amnesty International, FairSquare and Human Rights Watch, said they feared Bidali had been detained “without a lawyer or consular assistance”.
They wrote: “We are extremely concerned about his safety and security.”
Qatar, a small country on the Arabian Peninsula, is home to the state-funded Al-Azira Azira satellite news network. However, expression in the country remains tightly controlled.
“While residents enjoy some freedom of private discussion, it is reported that security forces control personal communications; civilians are often self-censored to avoid jeopardizing their employment or residence status,” Freedom House said. “Social media users may be subject to criminal penalties for posting politically sensitive content.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York later called on Qatar to clarify Bidali’s allegations or release him immediately, saying Doha had “repeatedly arrested journalists covering work issues.”
“We are concerned about the arrest of blogger Malcolm Bidali for no apparent reason, especially given the Qatari authorities’ registration in an attempt to stop labor rights reporting ahead of next year’s World Cup,” said Just Astin Shilad of the committee. Middle East ավագ Senior Researcher in North Africa.
Follow Jon on Gambrelli on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.