Our arrest was dramatic. We were on a quiet stretch of road in the capital, Doha, on our way to film a group of workers from Nepal. The working and housing conditions of migrant workers constructing new buildings in Qatar ahead of the World Cup have been heavily criticised and we wanted to see them for ourselves. Suddenly, eight white cars surrounded our vehicle and directed us on to a side road at speed.
A dozen security officers frisked us in the street, shouting at us when we tried to talk. They took away our equipment and hard drives and drove us to their headquarters. Later, in the city's main police station, the cameraman, translator, driver and I were interrogated separately by intelligence officers. The questioning was hostile. We were never accused of anything directly, instead they asked over and over what we had done and who we had met.
During a pause in proceedings, one officer whispered that I couldn't make a phone call to let people know where we were. He explained that our detention was being dealt with as a matter of national security. An hour into my grilling, one of the interrogators brought out a paper folder of photographs which proved they had been trailing me in cars and on foot for two days since the moment I'd arrived. I was shown pictures of myself and the team standing in the street, at a coffee shop, on board a bus and even lying next to a swimming pool with friends. It was a shock. I had never suspected I was being tailed.
At 01:00, we were taken to the local prison. It was meant to be the first day of our PR tour but instead we were later handcuffed and taken to be questioned for a second time, at the department of public prosecutions.
Qatari government statement, 18 May: "The Government Communications Office invited a dozen reporters to see - first-hand - some sub-standard labour accommodation as well as some of the newer labour villages. We gave the reporters free rein to interview whomever they chose and to roam unaccompanied in the labour villages. Perhaps anticipating that the government would not provide this sort of access, the BBC crew decided to do their own site visits and interviews in the days leading up to the planned tour. In doing so, they trespassed on private property, which is against the law in Qatar just as it is in most countries. Security forces were called and the BBC crew was detained."
BBC response: "We are pleased that the BBC team has been released but we deplore the fact that they were detained in the first place. Their presence in Qatar was no secret and they were engaged in a perfectly proper piece of journalism. The Qatari authorities have made a series of conflicting allegations to justify the detention, all of which the team rejects. We are pressing the Qatari authorities for a full explanation and for the return of the confiscated equipment."
I began my second night in prison on a disgusting soiled mattress. At least we did not go hungry, as we had the previous day. One of the guards took pity on us and sent out for roast chicken with rice.
In the early hours of the next morning, just as suddenly as we were arrested, we were released. Bizarrely, we were allowed to join the organised press trip for which we had come. It was as if nothing had happened, despite the fact that our kit was still impounded, and we were banned from leaving the country.
I can only report on what has happened now that our travel ban has been lifted. No charges were brought, but our belongings have still not been returned. Other journalists and activists, including a German TV crew, have also recently been detained.
How the country handles the media, as it prepares to host one of the world's most watched sporting events, is now also becoming a concern. Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International's Gulf migrant rights researcher, told us the detentions of journalists and activists could be attempts "to intimidate those who seek to expose labour abuse in Qatar".
Qatar, the world's richest country for its population size of little more than two million people, is pouring money into trying to improve its reputation for allowing poor living standards for low-skilled workers to persist. A highly respected London-based PR firm, Portland Communications, now courts international journalists. On the day we left prison, it showed us spacious and comfortable villas for construction workers, with swimming pools, gyms and welfare officers. This was part of the showcase tour of workers' accommodation, and it was organised by the prime minister's office. Qatar's World Cup Organising Committee, which answers to Fifa, was helping to run the tour.
Following our detention, the minister of labour agreed to talk to us on camera about how the media can cover what human rights campaigners have identified as "forced labour" within his country. "Qatar is an open country forever, since ever," Abdullah al-Khulaifi said. "The shortcomings that I am facing, the problems I am facing, I cannot hide. Qatar is open and now with the smartphones, everyone is a journalist," he said. He said the negative coverage of migrant workers' conditions was wildly overblown and that much progress had been made to improve basic conditions for migrant workers.
The government has implemented a wage protection scheme. It says at least 450 companies have been banned from working in the country and more than $6m (£3.8m) of fines have been handed out to firms mistreating workers, and the number of inspectors has been doubled.
But change has not come easily in what one security guard privately described to me as a country with surveillance officers everywhere. Without trade unions or a free media, bosses of large domestic and international companies have little incentive to radically improve conditions for well over a million labourers desperate for money.
Before we were detained, I met an 18-year-old mechanic, one of the 400,000 Nepalese workers there. He said he wanted to support his older brothers because his father had died and the family was struggling financially. He paid a recruitment agency in Nepal $600 to arrange his visa to work in Qatar and was told he would earn $300 a month. When he arrived he was told his salary, as a labour camp cleaner for air conditioning mechanics, was in fact $165 a month. He said he has never been given a copy of the contract he signed. Worse still, he said he could not understand it as it was in English.
It's a very common trick that foreign recruitment agents play before workers even get to Qatar, and very difficult for Qatar itself to police, although it says it is trying. This young man now finds himself at the mercy of Qatar's restrictive kafala system, which prevents workers from changing jobs for five years. Being tied to an employer in that way can leave migrant workers open to exploitation.
But as Qatar's World Cup approaches, the focus on migrant labour is only likely to increase.
(Mark Lobel, Reproduced from BBC News, Doha, 18 May, 2015)
In 2013, a Doha hospital reported that over a 1,000 workers were admitted to the trauma unit because of falling from heights, and a "significant" number of them died. Working 12 hours a day in 50 degree heat, without enough water, make for fatal working conditions. Many reported having lower salaries (which were rarely or never paid), having their passports taken away, and working seven days a week. Often there's no written proof of employment terms. This is the Kafala system, which forces migrant workers to depend on their sponsors for pretty much everything. Seizing their passport and visa, these sponsors conveniently terminate the possibility of workers escaping. As the 2022 deadline for the World Cup approaches, and there is an influx of migrant labourers to build facilities for the tournament, things are getting worse.
Migrant workers live in overcrowded accommodation with no air conditioning (a necessity in the scorching heat of the Middle East), and are exposed to overflowing sewage and uncovered septic tanks. Many are dumped and forgotten in squalid accommodations by companies who promised them a better life.
Some excerpts from an International Trade Union Confederation Case study: "For three months, I and 15 others who arrived together were forced to sleep on the floor on a thin mattress. We complained to the Qatar National Human Rights Committee about this and were moved into another accommodation. But even now eight people share one bedroom, sixteen people share a bathroom and thirty-five people share a kitchen... The kitchen is not hygienic, the bedrooms are crowded, the drainage in the showers is clogged up and most importantly there is no safety equipment or emergency exits in the building, which puts our lives under serious risk."
The Indian embassy reported that 237 Indians died in Qatar in 2012, and 191 in 2013 - many from "unnatural" heart failure. The year before, 169 Nepalese had died here. If they don't die, many will kill themselves, due to mounting debts and not being able to return home.
Despite the high death count of Indian labourers in Qatar, the Indian embassy in Qatar says that it is "quite normal", according to Amnesty International. Nikhil Eapen, Spokesperson, Amnesty International India, had written last year on their website about the government's aloof stance: "Instead of simply saying that such deaths are normal, the Indian government should provide clearer and more transparent information because at this point, we are unable to say how these deaths took place - whether on construction sites, in labour camps, road accidents or as a result of natural causes."
Or is there an ulterior motive? In December last year, Prince of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani had spoken about committing 1 lakh crore rupees to Modi's goal of 'smart cities'. With such a massive investment, maybe the government has chosen to sideline what may seem like a handful of Indians, for the bigger deal.
(Source: indiatimes May 15, 2015)
In a way the British election results show a shift to further rightist policies under Cameron with the support of 37% votes. It also hints at Britain getting further splintered soon. Financial markets responded gleefully to news of a Conservative win – which lifted the Labour threat of higher corporate and personal taxes for the City of London, along with more stringent regulation.The Tories are planning to cut welfare spending and introduce new powers to spy on the general public.
However, soon after the Tory victory was announced Britain erupted in angry protests. One of the demands of the protesters was the introduction of proportional representation in place of the first-past-the-post system.The Tories won a majority despite polling only 37% of the votes from those who turned out to have their say. On the other hand the Greens, who polled over 1 million votes, have just one seat to show for itunder Britain's winner-take-all voting system.
Several hundred protesters gathered in Westminster and marched through Central London two days after the 2015 General Election in protest of the new David Cameron Government. They carried posters and placards bemoaning the cuts that Cameron is expected to continue pushing through. Anti-austerity protesters staged a demonstration outside Downing Street after the announcement of the Conservative victory. Dozens of activists chanted "get the Tories out" as Whitehall – a road in Central London which is the main thoroughfare running towards Parliament Square and which houses most of the Government buildings – was shut for several hours during the demonstration.
A banker by profession, Das wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona, a website founded by Avijit Roy. Roy remained one of the eight moderators of Mukto-Mona till his murder. The site had published death threats that progressive Bangladeshi author Humayun Azad received before he was assassinated. Das was also an activist for the Gono Jogoron Moncho (Peoples' Awakening Forum) movement that is campaigning for a secular Bangladesh.
Death threats to secular bloggers are on the rise in Bangladesh. A few years back, hardline Islamists demanded a blasphemy law to stop bloggers they perceive to be anti-Islamic from writing about Islam. Secular forces in Bangladesh say that their views are under threat. Militant Islamic groups have published atheist blogger hit-lists. Last year, the group Ansar al Islam Bangladesh (also called Ansarullah Bangla Team)posted a "hit list"of writers seen as opponents of Islam, the advocacy group 'Reporters Without Borders' reported. Among the killingsfor which the group claimed responsibility was the 2013 fatal attack on Rajib Haider, an activist who called for harsh punishments of Islamists who committed atrocities during the country's 1971 liberation war. The same group is thought to be behind the attack on Roy and Das.
The killing has set off a storm of criticism against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, with noted author Taslima Nasreen saying people had "given up any expectation" that she would act against the killers.
Instead, Canada’s schools have been encouraged to adopt Common Core values such as ordering children as young as six to question their sexual orientation and gender identity, while teaching them how to use a range of vegetables as sex toys, and promoting anal sex as “normal”. Christian colleges and universities will be stripped of their accreditation if they continue to promote Biblical standards and values. In other words, the highest Canadian court has ruled that Christianity and education are incompatible.
In a ruling that is sure to send shock waves through the nation, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled 7-2 against Trinity Western University’s (TWU) Law School. Here’s a brief summary of the case for those who are not familiar with it. Trinity Western is a Christian university that requires its students and faculty to live by basic Christian standards. This means that to be a student or faculty member in good standing, you can’t commit fornication or adultery, nor can you engage in homosexual relationships.
There’s nothing surprising with these requirements, and there are thousands of schools in North America with similar standards. These include Christian schools from K-12, Christian colleges, Bible schools, seminaries, and universities.These standards have long been part of TWU’s mandatory covenant, which requires”that all students and faculty pursue a holy life ‘characterized by humility, self-sacrifice, mercy and justice, and mutual submission for the good of others.’ It requires members to abstain from using vulgar language, lying or cheating, stealing, using degrading materials such as pornography, and ‘sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.’”
Again, this is gospel 101, the basic requirements of Christian discipleship. And it is honorable that TWU seeks to live this out on its campus. Unfortunately, when TWU sought to open its law school, it fell afoul of Canada’s LGBT activists and their allies. They argued that TWU was discriminating against LGBT students, because of which students graduating with a bona fide law degree should not be allowed to practice law in Canada.
There was a ray of hope for TWU when a regional court ruled in its favor. But now, “In a pair of 7-2 rulings, the majority of justices found the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario have the power to refuse accreditation based on Trinity Western University’s so-called community covenant.” Or, to paraphrase, the Supreme Court ruled that if a Christian law school wants accreditation, it must abandon biblical values. How else can this be interpreted? “The majority judgment said the covenant would deter LGBT students from attending the proposed law school, and those who did attend would be at risk of significant harm.”
Significant harm? If so, why? Because of biblical teaching. Because of Christian values. This the locus of the battle. This is the point of conflict. “[The judgment] found the public interest of the law profession gives it the right to promote equality by ensuring equal access, support diversity within the bar and prevent harm to LGBT students.” In other words, “diversity” according to the LGBT lexicon. Diversity meaning “the LGBT way or the highway.” Diversity meaning, “all views are welcome other than biblical Christian views.”
That’s why we’ve been raising our voices for so many years. That’s why we’ve been warning. That’s why we’ve said that those who came out the closet want to put us into the closet. That’s why we’ve said that LGBT activism was never simply about “tolerance.” It was about the silencing of competing views. And if it could happen in Canada, it could happen in America. (For the skeptics and mockers, give me one good reason why this could not happen here. And note that TWU was not some tiny school hidden in a corner. It has “40 undergraduate programs and 17 graduate programs.”) Honestly, I don’t know where TWU goes from here. And I don’t know how the believers in Canada will respond.
But I can say this to my friends and colleagues and fellow-educators and communicators here in America: We either use our liberties or lose them. We either stand fast and stand tall and stand strong, or we cower in a corner. We either do what’s right today, or we apologize to our children tomorrow.
June 22, 2018 Baxter Dmitry News, World 67