Qatar World Cup: Fifa accused of being ‘complicit’ in ‘human rights travesty’


The family of jailed World Cup whistleblower Abdullah Ibhais has accused Fifa and president Gianni Infantino of “callous indifference” and being “complicit” in a “human rights travesty”, which is “tearing apart” his young family.

“We refuse to back down,” a statement read. “We call upon the Qatari authorities for Abdullah’s immediate release, and ask all human rights organisations, journalists, activists, players and the audience of the World Cup to raise their voices and call for Freedom for Abdullah.”

Ibhais’s case was referred on Wednesday to a team of UN human rights experts, which the family hope will result in an official statement that his case constitutes an arbitrary detention.

Ibhais had in August 2019 recommended that the Qatar Supreme Committee acknowledge their role in abuses of migrant workers as regards stadium construction.

A file was subsequently submitted by the Supreme Committee containing serious allegations about Ibhais, which saw him detained by Qatari state security. He signed a confession under duress, and was in April 2021 convicted of “bribery”, “violation of the integrity of tenders and profits” and “intentional damage to public funds”, based entirely on his confession.

Ibhais then contacted human rights groups about his case, supplying detailed information to support his claims. Human Rights Watch and FairSquare published details of the case and fair trial violations in October 2021. Ibhais was arrested in November 2021, with Qatari authorities saying they would execute the custodial sentence.

Qatar has denied the claims and insisted Ibhais was convicted on the basis of “an abundance of strong and credible evidence”.

Ibhais will now serve his full sentence unless he receives a pardon. His imprisonment has already seen him spend four days between 2-6 November “in complete darkness in solitary confinement, after being physically assaulted by the prison guards… with temperatures near freezing as the prison’s central air-conditioning was used as a torture device”.

A general view at the Corniche next to the Fifa World Cup logo

(Getty Images)

Human rights groups have repeatedly called on Fifa to use their immense leverage to specifically call for a fair trial for Ibhais.

The global governing body has so far only repeated the line “any person deserves a trial that is fair and where due process is observed and respected”, which FairSquare say is meaningless, further describing their messaging as being in “lock step” with the Supreme Committee.

This is one of many factors that has again caused the family to speak out as the World Cup reaches its conclusion. A statement noticed the contrast between the opening ceremony back on 20 November, and the conditions Ibhais suffered just kilometres away.

“The stark difference between the two scenes at the time of the World Cup opening will always haunt us as his family. On one hand, football fans around the world celebrated the start of the long awaited event with all the joy, the talent, the surprises and the amusement that the World Cup carries whenever it occurs.”

The statement then details testimony from Ibhais to his family.

“I think the temperature reached four celsius at some points. I was already suffering from several bruises after the prison guards’ assault, and I was shivering all the time, as the cold air directed to me never stopped. I hardly slept during those four days.”

It then adds the “prison’s administration pretext for this torture is that he was trying to ‘smuggle’ a letter to his wife!”

“Abdullah Ibhais has exhausted all legal channels, as Doha has failed him,” the statement reads. “Denied the chance of fair trial from the very beginning, he was interrogated without a lawyer by State Security police, in a case which they admitted does not pertain to state security.

“Abdullah was denied access to any information about his case for one whole year while awaiting the court. Abdullah was allowed to present oral defense in just one single instance in the three levels of court he stood before; his lawyer was allowed to speak for just five minutes.

“Our beloved Abdullah has stood up bravely for his conscience, for his family, for his children, and for a country he thought he was helping to set an example in organizing the first World Cup in an Arab State. He was unafraid to challenge his superiors. Abdullah was trying to showcase Qatar in its best light, to own up to its mistakes, and to do right by them and all the migrant workers who have suffered as a result. We never thought he would become a political prisoner. Abdullah used Fifa’s own systems to speak up; instead, he’s been punished.”

The statement goes on to criticise Fifa and Infantino in the strongest terms.

“We, the Family of Abdullah Ibhais, are calling out Fifa and its president, Gianni Infantino, who once said the World Cup is the voice of the marginalized. Your deeds haven’t lived up to your words. Fifa is complicit in Abdullah’s imprisonment and Fifa’s silence is tearing apart our family. We refuse Fifa’s callous indifference. We refuse to back down: we’re calling today on Fifa to take responsibility and finally own up to this human rights travesty.”

The statement also alleges what they believe to be the primary factor in his imprisonment.

“The real cause however is the broadcast of the Documentary “Qatar: A State of Fear?” on ITV1 in the UK, where Abdullah’s case was one of the main cases presented. The Qatari embassy in London sent its response to ITV1’s request for comment on the 30 October. Abdullah was in solitary confinement two days later, one day ahead of the broadcast.”

The Independent has contacted Fifa for comment.

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