UN, EU tell Qatar to rethink free-speech curbs

Qatar’s “lese majeste” laws on disrespect toward the country’s rulers violate citizens’ right to free speech. (REUTERS)
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Updated 18 February 2020

UN, EU tell Qatar to rethink free-speech curbs

  • EU raises issue of free speech with Doha, calling new laws "vaguely worded"
  • Latest criticism comes in wake of human rights concerns over 2022 World Cup hosting

The UN and the EU’s special representative on human rights have criticized Qatar for passing legislation curbing free speech.

Eamon Gilmore called the laws, which criminalize the spreading of “false” information, “vaguely worded.”

He said he had raised the issue with Qatar’s Foreign Ministry and the country’s National Human Rights Committee.

A 2014 law on cybercrime prevention originally allowed those convicted of offenses to be imprisoned for up to three years.

That upper timeframe was increased to five years for cases in which “ill intent” could be demonstrated.

The difficulty arises in the definition of “false news,” which is not specified in the law itself, leaving it open to liberal interpretation.

Gilmore said he is “concerned about some pieces of legislation which relate to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

He added: “Freedom of expression is a very important part of the way in which the EU sees human rights. We attach a very high priority to it. We urge that those laws be amended, changed or withdrawn.”

Qatar’s cybercrime laws were raised by the UN during the country’s most recent Universal Periodic Review.

It said Qatar’s “lese majeste” laws on disrespect toward the country’s rulers violate citizens’ right to free speech.

This comes in the wake of criticism from international organizations in the build up to Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Human Rights Watch on Sunday said Qatar’s censorship of unpaid workers fell short of international standards, in the aftermath of a report that said many foreign laborers working on construction sites had gone unpaid for a five-month period, and had been threatened with arrest, deportation and non-payment of outstanding wages if they went on strike.


Palestinian cyclists say attacked by Israeli settlers after trail app led them astray

Updated 22 July 2020

Palestinian cyclists say attacked by Israeli settlers after trail app led them astray

  • Komoot led them east toward a rocky path near the Israeli settlement of Shilo

RAMALLAH: A group of Palestinian cyclists say they were attacked by Israelis in the occupied West Bank after a popular trail app landed them on a remote path dotted with Jewish settlements.
Avid cyclist Amer Kurdi set out on Saturday with his brother and three others on what was supposed to be an 80-km (50-mile) ride, using the cycling, hiking, and mountain biking app Komoot to chart a path north from the Palestinian village of Birzeit.
The West Bank, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, is scattered with Israeli settlements which its 3 million Palestinians mostly cannot enter, as well as checkpoints and military bases that Israel says it needs for its security.
Over an hour into their ride, Kurdi said Komoot led them east toward a rocky path near the Israeli settlement of Shilo. He said a group of Hebrew-speaking men, whom the cyclists later took to be Israeli settlers, approached and asked where they were from.
Kurdi, 30, replied that they were from the Palestinian city of Ramallah. Soon after, the men — Kurdi estimates there were five or six — started throwing stones at them, using T-shirts to hide their faces, Kurdi and his brother, Samer, said.
“The others managed to run away, but I tripped and fell,” Samer, 28, said. “When I got up, a settler was behind me, and he started beating me with a metal rod.”
Photos the cyclists took after the incident, which they reported to Israel’s police, show Samer’s legs and arms bruised and bloodied.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said they are investigating.
Palestinians complain that navigation apps fail to grasp the West Bank’s complexity.
Asked for comment, Komoot said it regretted the incident but that its service is not specifically optimized for route planning “through areas of political unrest.”
Amer Kurdi says the incident will not keep him from cycling.
“I’ll wear a camera. I’ll be more careful when using apps,” he said.
“But we won’t stop. We will stand up for our right to bike.”