Outcry grows over the disappearance of UK workers’ rights activists in Qatar

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Just days before FIFA meets to decide whether the 2022 World Cup in Qatar should be held in the summer or winter, Qatari authorities are under increasing pressure to provide information on the two British human rights workers who have been missing in the Gulf state since Sunday.

On Friday, supporters gathered outside the Qatar embassies in London and Brussels to demand the release of 52-year-old researcher Krishna Upadhyaya and 36-year-old photographer Ghimire Gundev.

Meanwhile Amnesty International, Anti-Slavery International and Walk Free have joined forces with trade unions from around the world to call on Qatar to guarantee the safety of Upadhyaya and Gundev.

The two men – British citizens of Nepalese origin working for the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) – were investigating the working and living conditions of migrants from countries such as India, Bangladesh and Nepal working on World Cup infrastructure in Qatar.

It is thought that Upadhyaya and Gundev are being detained, without charge, by Qatari security forces although the government has so far stayed silent on the issue.

The British embassy in Doha has said it is investigating the matter.

GNRD is “deeply concerned” that the men may be at risk of torture.

Ala Abu Dakka, programme manager at GNRD Brussels told Equal Times: “It has been nearly a week and we haven’t had any update on the situation.

“The Qatar authorities say they have no information about the condition or whereabouts of Krishna and Ghimire which is unbelievable.”

On 30 August, Upadhyaya had contacted a friend to say that both men were being followed and harassed by Qatari police.

In one of his final messages Upadhyaya texted his friend: ““I am being followed by the police here. Looks like they will give me troubles now.”

Abu Dakka thinks it is likely that Upadhyaya and Gundev are victims of a “forced disappearance”. He said GNRD is prepared to take legal action if necessary.

“It is absolutely shocking that something like this can happen in 2014.

“Qatar is the signatory to a number of international conventions which speak out against enforced disappearance. We have had no news and we want to know that they are at least safe. This kind of intimidation will not stop us from continuing our work.”

In a press statement, Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, added his voice to those calling for immediate release:

“Unless these men are to be charged with an internationally recognisable criminal offence, remanded by a civilian court in a public hearing and brought to trial promptly and fairly, both must be immediately and unconditionally released.”


"A mini-empire of slavery and colonialism"

Qatar has been under a storm cloud of criticism since winning the bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Under the kafala system, migrants involved in World Cup preparations endure “slavery-like” working conditions.

Major labour reforms were promised earlier this year, but trade unions say nothing has changed for, particularly for construction workers who endure long hours, extremely high temperatures and accommodation in squalid labour camps, all while earning as little as 70 cents an hour.

“FIFA appears to have forgotten about the plight of the hundreds of thousands of migrants building the World Cup infrastructure, with a least one worker losing their life every day,” said Sharan Burrow of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

“Even the cosmetic changes to the kafala system of servitude have been put back for as much as 18 months while the local Chamber of Commerce decides if it will allow even these so-called reforms to see the light of day.

“FIFA should vote again on who should host in 2022 rather than dancing to the tune of corporate sponsors and multinational construction firms at the expense of some of the world’s most exploited workers.”

Belgian human rights activist Bahar Kimyongür, who works with GNRD and was at Friday’s protest told Equal Times: “Qatar is completely accepted by the EU but it is not a normal country. It is a mini-empire of slavery and colonialism.

“By treating it as if it was a normal country, the EU and its investors are the partners of killers.”

He continued: “Krishna and Ghimire did nothing wrong. The authorities wanted to stop them from discovering what the world already knows about Qatar. It was a preemptive attack on freedom. And this is completely unacceptable.”