Doha News personally spoke to Peter Tatchell at the location of the protest, moments after the police walked away, where he continued to stand unharmed and without any officers in the area.
A British LGBTQ+ campaigner who held a one-man protest in Qatar on Tuesday was not detained by police as reported, but was questioned on the spot, the activist told Doha News.
Peter Tatchell stood outside the National Museum of Qatar with a sign that read ‘Qatar arrests and subjects LGBTs to conversion’ while wearing a T-shirt with the hashtag “#QatarAntiGay”.
Earlier reports had initially claimed he was arrested, before then being amended to say his protest was stopped.
Doha News personally spoke to Tatchell at the location of the protest, moments after the police walked away, where he continued to stand unharmed and without any officers in the area.
He told Doha News that he stood outside NMoQ for 35 minutes before state security came, followed by police officers. When asked whether he was taken away or handcuffed, he said no.
“I was not removed from the curbside,” he told Doha News. “I was arrested at the point where I was standing with the placard,” he added, though Doha News can confirm there was no formal arrest and the activist was free to stand with his protest shirt on with no issue.
Tatchell said he was questioned about his nationality and travels to Qatar, and confirmed “the officers were polite and I’m grateful for that”.
A man who described himself as an employee of Tatchell also said “they were very polite, they even went to get us water.”
When asked by a Doha News journalist what kind of response he was expecting, Tatchell suggested he was surprised by the treatment.
“I was very, very nervous, you know, I feared possibly being detained and perhaps even physically abused. But the officers did none of that,” he said.
Videos that circulated online also showed a uniformed Qatar police officer walking up to Tatchell, taking a photo of him and walking away without engaging with the man.
In a statement sent to Doha News, Qatar’s Government Communication’s Office said reports of the arrest are “baseless” accusations to “provoke negative responses”.
“Rumours on social media that a representative from the Peter Tatchell Foundation has been arrested in Qatar are completely false and without merit,” the statement said, noting “an individual standing in a traffic roundabout was cordially and professionally asked to move to the sidewalk, no arrests were made.”
“We are extremely disappointed to see baseless accusations being freely reported by media outlets, without facts. Many organisations will use increased media attention on Qatar ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 to promote their own profiles. We are always open to dialogue with entities that wish to discuss important topics, but spreading false information with the deliberate intention of provoking negative responses is irresponsible and unacceptable,” the statement concluded.
Meanwhile, an Foreign and Commonwealth Office Department Spokesperson refrained from using the word arrest in a statement sent to Doha News.
“We provided consular assistance to two British Nationals following an incident in Doha,” the statement said, citing the official.
Tatchell is known for his activism and had staged a similar protest during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where he was actually arrested.
Responding to a question over targeted attacks against Qatar, Tatchell said, “I did the same thing in Russia during the World Cup in 2018…for me human rights is universal.”
The protest on Tuesday came just a day after Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report over alleged arrests and torture of members of the LGBTQ+ community in the Gulf state. The report joins a barrage of reports that have criticised Qatar as the host nation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
A Qatar government official dismissed allegations in HRW’s report as “categorically and unequivocally false”.
“Qatar does not tolerate discrimination against anyone, and our policies and procedures are underpinned by a commitment to human rights for all,” the official told AFP.
The Gulf state official further noted that while the government held talks with HRW along with similar groups, the report’s “claims were not brought” to their attention until they spread in the media.
“If Human Rights Watch had contacted us, we would have been able to disprove the allegations,” said the official, adding that HRW’s failure to contact them “compromises their self-proclaimed commitment to reporting the truth.”
The official also dismissed the alleged presence of “conversion centres” in Doha and said the clinics mentioned by HRW are for those with “behavioural conditions”, including substance dependence.
Qatar’s treatment of incoming members of the LGBQT community for the World Cup, as well as the waving of the pride flag, has been a hot topic in recent months.
Speaking to Sky News earlier this month, Nasser Al Khater, World Cup Qatar 2022 CEO, insisted that no one will face discrimination during the 29-day tournament.
“At the end of the day, as long as you don’t do anything that harms other people, if you’re not destroying public property, as long as you’re behaving in a way that’s not harmful, then everybody’s welcome and you have nothing to worry about,” said Al Khater.
While the Gulf state is maintaining its anti-LGBTQ+ laws, Al Khater assured that gay fans can hold hands.
“This is a sporting tournament that people want to come [to] and enjoy. Turning it into a platform of political statements I don’t think is right for the sport,” said Al Khater.
“All we ask is for people to be respectful of the culture,” he said, adding that “from what he understands” there are discussions on political messages at the tournament.
Asked about the attendance of members of the LGBTQ community at the World Cup, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in May said “everybody is welcome in Doha”.
“We do not stop anybody from coming to Doha with any different backgrounds, any different beliefs, Qatar is a very welcoming country,” the amir told the press during his visit to Berlin.
Sheikh Tamim added that the country already welcomes “millions” of visitors and the World Cup serves as “a great opportunity” for people all over the world to experience the Qatari culture.
“We welcome everybody, but also we expect and we want people to respect our culture,” said the Qatari leader.
Editors note: This article has been edited to remove information that incorrectly stated Reuters had reported on an “arrest” of the activist.