Rights group fear for migrant activist ‘disappeared’ in Qatar

By Pete Pattisson

A Kenyan security guard in Qatar who has written about the plight of migrant workers has been “forcibly disappeared”, human rights group say.

Malcolm Bidali was detained by the Qatari security services over a week ago and is being held in an undisclosed location, according to a coalition of rights groups, which include Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Bidali, who arrived in Qatar in 2016 to work as a security guard, began to write about the treatment of migrant workers in the World Cup host country last year.

His articles, written under the pseudonym “Noah”, give an intimate insight into the working and living conditions of some low-wage migrants in the Gulf state. Bidali described overcrowded dormitories, confiscated passports, the lack of privacy and his unsuccessful attempts to seek better treatment.

Days before his arrest, Bidali had spoken about his life in Qatar to a group of civil society organisations and trade unions.

His detention has come as Qatar attempts to stave off threats of a World Cup boycott over migrant workers’ rights.

Human rights groups have called on the Qatari authorities to reveal where he is being detained. “We are extremely concerned for his wellbeing, and that he may have been detained in reprisal for his legitimate human rights work,” they said in a statement.

“We urge the authorities to disclose Malcolm’s whereabouts, and ensure he is protected from torture and other ill-treatment … If Malcolm is detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, he must be released immediately and unconditionally,” they added.

In recent weeks, security guards have organised a number of protests in Qatar over pay and conditions. In a video on social media, scores of workers can be seen chanting: “No money, no work.”

In the past nine months Qatar has introduced major reforms to its labour practices, including introducing a minimum wage of 1,000 riyals (£195) a month. If employers do not provide food and housing, they must pay an additional allowance of 800 riyals (£155). It has also largely ended the kafala (sponsorship) system, under which workers unable to change jobs without their employer’s permission. The practice left many workers vulnerable to exploitation and in some cases forced labour.

In a written response to the Guardian, the Qatari authorities confirmed a Kenyan national was taken into custody on 5 May and was under investigation for violating Qatar’s security regulations. “The individual retains all his rights under the law. All procedures of the investigation are being carried out in accordance with Qatari law,” said a government official.