Qatar, a nation where gay sex can be punishable by death, has been censoring recent New York Times coverage regarding LGBT rights.
Pictures shared with ABC News reveal entire articles swiped from Qatari editions of The New York Times, leaving blocks of the newspaper empty. In its place, a small note says that the articles, most of which detail the Qatari government's treatment of LGBT citizens, have been "exceptionally removed."
“As the next host of the World Cup, Qatar should be responsible for implementing FIFA’s human rights policies as an example to the participating countries,” wrote Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives for Human Rights Watch in a formal complaint to FIFA's human rights reporting mechanism. Her May 29 Times op-ed, Will FIFA Force Russia to Make the World Cup Friendly to LGBT People?, was one of the censored documents.
Worden feels that the act of censorship violates Qatar's agreement with FIFA to uphold minimum human rights standards, including freedom of the press.
“The censorship of the media has also been noticed by the LGBTQ community as a sign that they are not welcome in Qatar,” Worden stated.
The stories stripped from public viewing include subjects such as LGBT rights in Africa, criticism of President Trump's attempted ban on transgender servicemembers, and a retrospective on a 1973 gay bar fire that killed 32 in New Orleans.
While the Qatar Embassy did not respond to multiple requests for comment, FIFA formally replied to Worden's complaint.
“Qatar as a host country is not subject to FIFA’s Statutes, nor is it bound by FIFA’s Human Rights Policy and related FIFA regulations," wrote FIFA human rights manager Andreas Graf.
In response to ABC News, FIFA issued a statement that it sees freedom of the press as a "cornerstone of FIFA’s human rights efforts" and that they've "launched an assessment of the processes" that led to the censorship of LGBT coverage.
"FIFA is aware and closely following up on the two recent opinion pieces discussing LGBTI issues linked to the FIFA World Cup that were not printed in the Doha edition of The New York Times," stated a FIFA spokesperson. "As part of our ongoing activities in Qatar, we have already in early June 2018 launched an assessment of the processes that led to that. We will decide on appropriate further measures based on the results of this assessment and the engagement with our Qatari counterparts."
The Qatari government is not just censoring LGBT issues.
The New York Times told ABC News that coverage that mentioned alcohol and sexuality have been "altered or exceptionally removed." These decisions came from the government or an independent printing and distribution vendor in Qatar.
"While we understand that our publishing partners are sometimes faced with local pressures, we deeply regret and object to any censorship of our journalism and are in regular discussions with our distributors about this practice,” a spokesperson for the Times said, adding the newspaper requires the publisher to include a citation referencing the uncensored title of the piece and that it can be found online.
“For years, they’ve been censoring ‘sensitive’ images, like Kim Kardashian’s neckline, though more recently they started deleting words (usually ‘sex’), and very recently whole articles,” Justin Martin, a journalism professor at Northwestern University's Qatar campus who subscribes to the Times locally, told ABC News. “I’ve never seen this kind of censorship before.”
“This violates the right of people in Qatar,” Worden says. “No one there has the right to know about LGBT rights?”
In Qatar, what is stripped from the newspaper says more about the day's happenings than what is reported.
“For years, I grabbed my New York Times early in the morning, and I flipped through the see what was in it,” Martin said. “Now I flip through it to see what’s not.”