On 22 January 2019, a 26-year-old British tourist Ali Issa Ahmad was arrested and beaten by United Arab Emirates (UAE) security officials for showing a Qatar soccer t-shirt during the Asian Cup match between Iraq and Qatar in the UAE. Ahmad was totally unaware of UAE’s policy according to which showing any Qatari related symbol or banner is punishable with the imposition of a large fine and a possible extended period of imprisonment. The policy is enacted as a result of the ongoing diplomatic crisis amongst the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, facing the Saudi led Coalition and the Qatari government, a heavily fall of diplomatic relations in-between the two regional actors that began in late June 2017 and still goes on.
The sources of such detriment can be traced back to the Saudi accusations to Doha’s implications on dealing with illegal and violent groups in Syria and Iraq. As a matter of fact, in April 2017 the Qatari government was involved in an informal deal with Sunni and Shiite groups in those regions with the clear goal to secure the return of 26 Qatari hostages, including some royal members. The second intent was to grant and allow a humanitarian aid safe passage through conflict areas by directly dealing with both counterparts in Syria. However, the Saudi-led coalition cited Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism as the main reason for their actions, insisting that Qatar violated a 2014 agreement with the other GCC actors. Also, Al Jazeera and Qatar’s relations with Iran were driven under the spotlight by the Saudi coalition members. In fact, Qatar still acknowledges that it has supported some Islamist groups (the Muslim Brotherhood) but denies aiding militant groups linked to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Qatar has provided precious assistance to the United States in the War on Terror and the ongoing military intervention against ISIL.
As for the case of Ahmad, he claimed that he was firstly forced by officials to remove his Qatari jersey and later being assaulted for wearing the same t-shirt at the beach. While officials initially let him go after the incident at the stadium, he was later detained after seeking in a local hospital special treatment for injuries suffered on the second episode. He was detained in a security building and frequently deprived of sleep, food and water supplies for several days before being transferred to a police cell. Ahmad has returned to the UK; however, his case not only underlines the frequent UAE abuses of detainees but highlights the still present greater impacts of the GCC Qatari crisis.
The abuses perpetrated by UAE officials are a recurrent case within human rights issues. As a matter of fact, in May 2018, Matthew Hedges, a British academic, was detained in inhuman conditions and claims he was psychologically tortured into confessing to accusations of spying. The list of illegal treatments continue to shock the international community.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) condemns the illegal and inhuman reprisals by the UAE officials. We are deeply troubled to hear that human rights are still threatened by high politics interests and tensions. The ignited persecuting system is deeply challenging the operative work of NGOs and other human rights operative clusters.