‘I was arrested in Qatar—England fans need to be vigilant’

England players train with migrant workers ahead of Qatar World Cup

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Don’t drink in public, don’t show public signs of affection and make sure your clothing covers your shoulders and knees. These are just some of the rules fans will be expected to abide by at 2022’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar, an event unlike any that came before it. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 England fans and some 2,000 Wales supporters will travel to the middle eastern nation to follow the Three Lions in their quest for glory. But concerns over the risks faced by naive Britons in the culturally conservative country have increased in recent weeks.

Some Qatari laws have caused uproar in the build-up to the event. Homosexuality is outlawed in the Gulf nation, and while organisers have said “everybody is welcome”, LGBTQ fans remain concerned. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has even urged LGBTQ fans to “respect the law” while in Qatar to avoid running into trouble with the authorities.

There are some reservations surrounding how Qatari police will deal with tourists, particularly after it was reported that law enforcement during the tournament will also include subcontracted officers from Turkey and Pakistan. Policing in both countries has been criticised for human rights violations in the past.

Mustafa Qadri, a human rights lawyer, knows how strict law enforcement in Qatar can be. In 2015, he was arrested after visiting a camp that hosted migrant workers, many of whom alleged they hadn’t been paid in months.

He told Express.co.uk how he spent nine hours in a police station and says he was forced to sign a document that made him admit to trespassing, even though he had been given a permit to go to the camp.

He said: “We were eventually released. But we later discovered that the Interior Minister wanted to prosecute us for trespassing.

“I had to sign a document that basically said I accept that I trespassed, I was basically forced to sign this paper I don’t agree with. This gave us a really good understanding of what life was like on the ground.”

Mr Qadri – an Australian citizen who founded Equidem, an organisation that advocates for worker and human rights around the globe – is now sharing his experience and expertise to warn Western tourists of the risks they could face.

He said he believes tournament organisers and Qatari police will be more lenient than usual given the number of tourists that will be in the country, but still warns there is a “risk” of Western fans being detained if they unknowingly break with the country’s rules.

“I think they will give a lot of space for people from Western countries to express themselves because of the PR aspect,” he said.

“Of course, people should be respecting local norms. The reality is being heavily controlled and stage-managed in Qatar.

“Based on what we know from the recent past, they haven’t reformed the society, which means they have to crack down on any attempt to shine a light on practices that are inconsistent with the image being portrayed.”

Mr Qadri said the primary concern lies with British fans unintentionally breaking laws so foreign to life in the UK.

“There is a concern there,” he said. “I still think there’s a risk if you are an England fan you may go there and do something or say something that might lead to you being detained.

“I really hope that doesn’t happen. Tourists going there need to be respectful and vigilant.”

The UK Foreign Office has taken steps to prevent citizens from incurring “serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK.”

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Its official advice warns that “Qatari laws and customs are very different to those in the UK” and that tourists should “be aware of your actions to ensure that they don’t offend.”

Measures have been taken to try and prevent foreign fans from unnecessary arrests. British police will be in Qatar during the tournament to act as a “buffer” between fans and local police.

Chief constable Mark Roberts also added that they will be on hand to advise fans if they break rules without realising.

The Guardian has reported that FIFA has urged Qatari officials to show restraint when dealing with foreign fans. Examples given say that fans should be able to sing loud songs in public, place flags on statues, and climb on tables without fear of being punished.

The recommendations even say fans should be able to display LGBTQ flags despite Qatar’s laws on homosexuality.

But Mr Qadri said that British fans should be aware of the cultural differences in a country such as Qatar and expect to change their behaviour accordingly.

The Qatari embassy in London has been contacted for comment on this story. You can read more advice from the UK Foreign Office here.

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