Veteran LGBT activist and campaigner Peter Tatchell has been arrested by police as he staged a protest in Qatar ahead of the World Cup next month.
Mr Tatchell, 70, said he stood outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha for around an hour on Tuesday wearing a t-shirt that read “Qatar Anti Gay” and carrying a sign that read: “Qatar arrests, imprisons and subjects LGBT people to ‘conversion’.”
He was arrested by five police officers, who folded up his placard and took photos of his passport and other papers as well as those of a man accompanying him.
Speaking ahead of the protest, Mr Tatchell said: “Qatar cannot be allowed to smear their reputation. They are using the World Cup to improve their international image. We must ensure that the tyrant regime in Doha does not won’t win a public relations victory.
“Although FIFA has said that discrimination will not be tolerated, if a Qatari footballer comes out as gay, he would be more likely to be arrested and imprisoned than selected for the national team. That is discrimination and against FIFA rules.
“I made this protest to highlight Qatar’s human rights violations against LGBT+ people, women, migrant workers and liberal Qataris. I support their courageous battle against tyranny.”
Mr Tatchell, director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, a human rights organisation, staged a similar protest ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
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The world Cup begins in the Gulf State on November 20.
Homosexuality is illegal in the conservative Muslim country, and some football stars have raised concerns about the rights of fans traveling to the event.
Organizers of the World Cup, which is the first to be held in a Middle Eastern country, say everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or background, is welcome, while warning against public protests of love.
Commenting on Mr Tatchell’s protest, the Qatar Government Communications Office said the “rumors” that he had been arrested are “completely false and baseless”.
“An individual standing in a roundabout was cordially and professionally asked to move onto the sidewalk, no arrests were made,” he added.
But in a Sky News interviewQatar’s World Cup official Nasser Al Khater said the country’s anti-LGBT laws would not be changed and fans should be “culturally respectful”.
“At the end of the day, as long as you don’t do anything that harms others, if you don’t destroy public property, as long as you behave in a way that is not harmful, then everyone is welcome and you have nothing to fear,” he said.
He added that while fans can wave rainbow flags, decisions regarding players wearing “One Love” armbands are up to FIFA.
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A Human Rights Watch report (HRW) claimed that Qatari police arbitrarily arrested a number of LGBT people just last month.
A Qatari official responded by saying HRW’s allegations “contain information that is categorically and unequivocally false.”
A spokesperson added: “Qatar does not tolerate discrimination against anyone, and our policies and procedures are underpinned by a commitment to human rights for all.”