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British human rights activist Peter Tatchell was briefly stopped in Qatar on Tuesday for staging a public demonstration in Doha, the country's capital city.
According to the Peter Tatchell Foundation, he was "detained" for holding the first pro-LGBTQ+ protest in any Gulf state.
With less than a month to go before the FIFA World Cup, which is expected to draw huge crowds of tourists from around the world to the nation, Tatchell stood outside the National Museum of Qatar with a sign calling attention to the nation's mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people.
"Qatar arrests, jails & subjects LGBTs to 'conversion' #QatarAntiGay," read a sign that the activist held while wearing a T-shirt with the same hashtag emblazoned on it.
The foundation's YouTube page shows that Tatchell was standing peacefully in a pedestrian area along a street when a security officer approached him and folded up his sign.
The video ends as the security official walks away from Tachell.
But Tatchell's supporters tweeted that he had been seized and that his whereabouts had been unknown for some time.
\u201cBREAKING NEWS - @PeterTatchell has been arrested in #Qatar in the first ever public #LGBT protest in a Gulf State.\n\nHe was seized by the Qatari security services while demonstrating in Doha ahead of the World Cup in three weeks.\n\nHis whereabouts are unknown - please pray for him!\u201d— Jayne Ozanne \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 (@Jayne Ozanne \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6) 1666694988
At 8:34 a.m. EDT, Tatchell tweeted that he had been freed and would be heading to the airport to depart the country.
"I have been freed by #Qatar police after staging first LGBT+ protest in the homophobic Gulf state. @FIFAcom awarded the #WorldCup to Qatar where LGBTs can be jailed & executed. #QatarAntiGay," he tweeted.
\u201cI have been freed by #Qatar police after staging first LGBT+ protest in the homophobic Gulf state. \n@FIFAcom awarded the #WorldCup to Qatar where LGBTs can be jailed & executed. #QatarAntiGay \nMore info: https://t.co/fEOHFIvbHw Please Retweet\u201d— Peter Tatchell (@Peter Tatchell) 1666701285
Tatchell explained what happened in a short video included in the tweet.
"I'm now released and will be heading to the airport soon," he says in the clip. "I staged my protest on the main road outside the National Museum of Qatar for 35 minutes before state security arrived, followed up by police. I was arrested and detained for 49 minutes and subjected to interrogation about where I was from [and] where I was going. But I have now been released. The most important thing is this protest was to shine a light on the abuse of human rights in Qatar. This is the first-ever LGBT+ protest in Qatar or any Gulf state. But also, I sought to draw attention to the abuse of the rights of women and migrant workers as well. I stand in solidarity with those brave Qatari human rights defenders who cannot express their point of view because they fear arrest, jail, and possibly even torture. I salute them. They are the true heroes."
However, the Qatari government disputes that Tatchell had been arrested. According to officials, he was merely asked to leave.
In a statement to The Advocate, Qatar's Government Communications Office said, "Rumours on social media that a representative from the Peter Tatchell Foundation has been arrested in Qatar are completely false and without merit. An individual standing in a traffic roundabout was cordially and professionally asked to move to the sidewalk, no arrests were made."
The statement criticizes what government officials call "baseless accusations being freely reported by media outlets, without facts."
The statement continues, "Many organizations 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 Advocate reached out to Tatchell to discuss his experience but did not hear back before publication.
In April, Major General Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Ansari, the director of the Department of International Cooperation and Chairman of the National Counterterrorism Committee at the Ministry of Interior, indicated that officials could confiscate rainbow flags in the name of protection.
"If he [a fan] raised the rainbow flag and I took it from him, it's not because I really want to, really, take it, to really insult him, but to protect him," Al Ansari said. "Because if it's not me, somebody else around him might attack [him] ... I cannot guarantee the behavior of the whole people. And I will tell him: 'Please, no need to really raise that flag at this point.'"
Several soccer stars have expressed concern about the rights of fans traveling for the tournament, especially LGBTQ+ individuals and women, whom rights groups claim are discriminated against by Qatari laws. Homosexuality is illegal there.
In September, eight European countries that qualified for the World Cup announced that their team captains would support the inclusion of marginalized communities and oppose discrimination, including the LGBTQ+ community, by wearing a special "OneLove" armband during the global event. Those countries include the Netherlands, England, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Wales.
Earlier this week, global human rights group Human Rights Watch released a report that said that Qatar's security forces have arrested and abused LGBTQ+ people in the country.
"Only weeks ahead of the World Cup, LGBT people are raising the alarm on the abuses they have endured by security forces," Rasha Younes, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a press release. "The Qatari government should call an immediate halt to this abuse and FIFA should push the Qatari government to ensure long-term reform that protects LGBT people from discrimination and violence."
The organization said it had documented several cases where LGBTQ+ people were beaten and sexually harassed by police. It added that transgender women detained by authorities were forced into conversion therapy sessions.
"While Qatar prepares to host the World Cup, security forces are detaining and abusing LGBT people simply for who they are, apparently confident that the security force abuses will go unreported and unchecked," Younes said. "Qatari authorities need to end impunity for violence against LGBT people. The world is watching."