Amidst World Cup, Qatar’s church “has been hidden”, says Open Doors
The organisation asks authorities “to allow any religious organization to operate peacefully, free from monitoring and interference”.
Open Doors, Protestante Digital · DOHA · 21 NOVEMBER 2022 · 23:50 CET
Thousands of people have travelled to Qatar to watch the World Cup, which the small emirate is hosting until 18 December 2022.
At the same time, millions of people around the world are already following the most important football competition in the world.
Open Doors has pointed out that, despite the festive atmosphere in the country during these weeks, the reality of the indigenous Christian church continues to be worrying.
“Visitors are being encouraged to pay a visit to Qatar’s museums, ancient heritage sites and shopping malls, one thing they won’t be able to do is visit a church”, says Anastasia Hartman, Open Doors’ Middle Eastern advocacy spokesperson.
The organisation that monitors the persecution of Christians around the world stresses that “the nation’s vibrant Christian community has been completely hidden from view”.
“The small number of indigenous Qatari converts have no official permission to meet or practice. Converting to a non-Muslim religion is considered apostasy and is officially punishable under Islamic Sharia law by death”, they add.
Furthermore, “they face extreme pressure from Muslim families and community members”.
Qatar is currently number 18 on 2022 Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks the nations in which Christians face the most extreme persecution and discrimination for their faith.
According to the organisation, the Christian churches that the state has officially recognised and registered are located in the Mesaymeer complex in Doha.
The place “is open to Christians that are part of the country’s sizeable expatriate community, with non-Muslim visitors also allowed access”, explains Hartman.
Mesaymeer complex “was created to promote inter-religious dialogue. It’s a fine gesture. However, now it is now too overcrowded. It’s time for Qatar’s Christians to go ‘free range’, religious expression is a human right and not something to be hidden away as if it’s an embarrassment”, she points out.
A before and after with the pandemic
As in many other countries, the pandemic has also hit the right to religious freedom in Qatar.
Hartman recalls that “in 2020, with the spread of Covid-19, the government send notification to churches saying that permission to gather outside of the complex was suspended”.
“This has left over a hundred churches without permission to operate. Now, the pandemic has eased and the country is open again, however, there is still no sign of churches receiving permission to reopen. There were some signs that the government was going to issue licenses, but this has not happened”, denounces Hartman.
While Open Doors “appreciates the steps made to house expatriate congregations in the Mesaymeer complex”, they ask the authorities “to allow religious organizations, both expat and indigenous to operate peacefully, free from monitoring and interference”.
A complex World Cup
The World Cup in Qatar has stirred up a lot of controversy on many different issues, in addition to the freedom of religion.
The organisation of the tournament has been linked to a corruption scandal that has shaken the leadership of FIFA, leading to changes in its leadership.
Other human rights organisations have also denounced the lack of guarantees in the Qatari regime, with an emphasis on the rights of women and migrant workers who have participated in the construction of the World Cup infrastructure.
Open Doors stressed the irregularity of the religious situation in the country. because “article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone should be able to express their faith in 'teaching, practice, worship and observance'”, said Ted Blake, director of the organisation in Spain.