Theresa May urged to advocate for LGBT people in Qatar during Emir’s visit

EXCLUSIVE: The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani is visiting London on Monday to discuss trade relations with the UK, but critics of the Qatari government’s record on human rights hope Prime Minister Theresa May will not forget to raise that issue, too.

The emir will meet the Lord Mayor of London Charles Bowman and the Minister of State for Trade and Export Promotion Baroness Fairhead for a lunchtime meeting at Guildhall. It remains unclear when he’ll see the prime minister, but Downing Street is due to make an announcement on Monday, PinkNews understands.

The meeting would provide May with an opportunity to present herself as an “ally of the LGBT community in the UK”—as she said in a recent interview to ITV—and push for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Qatar, one of the 74 countries that still punishes same-sex relations with imprisonment.

The world’s attention has focused more on Qatar’s human rights record in recent years as it will host the 2022 football World Cup.

British Prime Minister Theresa May greets His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, The Emir of Qatar outside 10 Downing Street on September 15, 2016 in London, England (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty)

“Since becoming host nation for the 2022 World Cup, Qatar’s extremely poor human rights record has been in the international spotlight—from its widespread exploitation of migrant workers to restrictions on free speech. UK ministers and officials should see the visit as an opportunity to encourage much-needed human rights reform in Qatar, not least the decriminalisation of same-sex relations,” Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs, tells PinkNews.

After awarding Qatar the World Cup, the since disgraced FIFA president Sepp Blatter said, apparently joking, that LGBT+ football fans should “refrain from any sexual activities,” as the BBC reported in 2010.

Three years later, the head of Qatar’s World Cup bid team, Hassan al-Thawadi, said that everybody was welcome at the event, so long as they refrained from public display of affection. “Public display of affection is not part of our culture and tradition” he said.

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photography during a symbolic transfer of the authority to Qatar to host the World Cup 2022 at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 15, 2018 (Photo by Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty)

Homosexuality remains a taboo topic in the country, as the outlet Doha News discovered in 2016, when they published an opinion piece in which the author described being gay in Qatar as “jarring” and spoke of the “irreparable damage to [his] mental health.” The piece was met with extremely strong reactions.

Andy Harvey, a lecturer in Sports and Exercise Science at Swansea University, who recently wrote about how the World Cup in Qatar will be even worse than the one in Russia for LGBT+ people, said that pressure from other world leaders could prove effective in delivering significant changes to legislation in the country.

“It’s an opportunity for world leaders like May to stress to the Qatari authorities that it would be unacceptable for them to hold a World Cup whilst not respecting human rights, including LGBT+ rights. And these should not be respected only for the duration of the World Cup like we’ve seen in Russia—the Russian authorities have put on a very good PR display, but of course nothing has changed in the country,” Harvey tells PinkNews.

“We need to see in advance of Qatar hosting the World Cup significant changes in relation to LGBT+ right, decriminalising gay sex. We need to see those laws repealed in advance of the world cup, not just tolerate LGBT fans during the world cup,” he adds.