Qatar detains Nepalese workers’ rights activists

The authorities in Qatar have confirmed that they are holding two British human rights activists in Doha. The men had been reported missing on 31 August. They were investigating the working conditions of Nepalese labourers on the emirate’s construction sites.

The two men, Krishna Upadhyaya, 52, and Ghimire Gundev, 36, worked for the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD), an NGO based in Stavanger, Norway. They arrived in Qatar on 27 August to research a report on Nepalese migrants’ living and working conditions. They disappeared after complaining of harassment by the police.

On the evening of Saturday 30 August, Upadhyaya sent a text to a friend in Norway saying, "I am being followed by the police here. Looks like they will give me troubles now."

The last contact GNRD had with the men was on the morning of 31 August as they prepared to leave their hotel for the airport. According to GNRD, after checking out, they chose to remain in the reception because they felt too unsafe to leave the hotel premises.

Ghimire Gundev (left) and Krishna Upadhyaya (Global Network for Rights and Development)

GNRD said that Upadhyaya "expressed alarm at the number of police in the vicinity, and noticed undercover authorities who came extremely close to him whenever he spoke on the phone". The airline they were due to fly with confirmed they did not board the plane.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the Qatari ministry of foreign affairs said the men were being investigated for "violating the law of the land" and added that security forces had treated the men in accordance with the norms of international human rights.

It said: "Security services followed all the right procedures with the two men and that they were treated with humanity in detention in accordance to the international human rights law, in compliance with the constitution and the federal laws in Qatar. 

"There is an ongoing communication between the Qatari ministry of foreign affairs and the security services on one end and the British foreign affairs office on another end."

According to the men’s families, Upadhyaya and Gundev were working on a report on Nepalese migrant workers.

Amnesty International said in November that the labourers suffered "widespread and routine abuse". Qatar pledged to amend its laws to better protect workers’ rights, and groups such the Qatari Foundation have lobbied for the emirate to conform to international norms on labour rights. Meanwhile, the Qatari government has suggested that most abuses can be traced back to the agencies that recruit workers in their country of origin.

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