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World Cup 2022: Qatar upholds jail sentence for migrant whistleblower

Jordanian Abdullah Ibhais, part of the World Cup organising committee, revealed poor treatment of migrant workers and is detained on what he says are trumped-up charges
Construction workers at Lusail Stadium, built for the 2022 Qatar World Cup around 20 kilometres north of the capital Doha, on 20 December 2019 (AFP)

Qatar has upheld the conviction of a 2022 World Cup employee who criticised the treatment of migrant workers in the country, though his sentence has been reduced from five to three years in prison.

Abdullah Ibhais, a former employee of the 2022 Fifa World Cup organising committee, was arrested in November 2019 and sentenced to jail last April, over allegations of bribery and misuse of funds. However, Ibhais and human rights groups have said the government is persecuting him for speaking up for migrant workers in the Gulf state.

Ibhais has been on hunger strike since he was detained on 15 November, during his trial, his family told Reuters. Dutch newspaper NRC published a voice note in early December, reportedly recorded in his cell, in which Ibhais states his decision to continue the strike until he is proven innocent.

'I've gone on a hunger strike because for me this was the last resort after I was denied the chance to a fair trial'
- Abdullah Ibhais

"I've gone on a hunger strike because for me this was the last resort after I was denied the chance to a fair trial," Ibhais is heard saying. "I was denied the chance to be heard, I was denied the chance to speak up and, after all, I was detained whilst my trial has not finished yet."

Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup has come under scrutiny for the gas-rich state's treatment of migrant workers and its approach to LGBT rights.

The country's tournament organiser, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said Ibhais' allegation that the case and his criticisms were linked was "absolutely false". A Qatari official said the case had examined strong and credible evidence against Ibhais for soliciting bribes to influence the outcome of a state-funded procurement process.

"Misappropriation of state funds is a serious crime in Qatar, and this is reflected in the court's decision," the official said.

No further details were available about Wednesday's ruling, which Ibhais can challenge on appeal.

'People will know his name'

Ibhais, a Jordanian national, was not in court on Wednesday when the judge sentenced him to three years in prison, replacing the previous five-year sentence.

Ibhais had been a communications director for the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.

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In November 2019 he was arrested and charged with bribery and misuse of funds, and in April 2021 sentenced to five years in jail.

He was released pending an appeal against his conviction, but was detained again on 15 November.

He told Human Rights Watch and Britain-based rights group FairSquare that Qatari authorities coerced him into confessing, and his prosecution was linked to his internal criticism of the handling of a 2019 workers' strike.

Interrogators coerced Ibhais into confessing to charges of bribery and misuse of state funds in late 2019, Ibhais told Norwegian magazine Josimar. During the interrogation, public prosecuters told him, "Either you sign a confession here or we send you to State Security, where they know how to get a confession out of you," he said.

"Every day Abdullah Ibhais remains in jail, more people will know his name, know what he did for the migrant workers who built Qatar's World Cup, and know the price he has apparently paid for that," said Nicholas McGeehan, co-director of FairSquare.

Fifa, world soccer's governing body, said that any person deserved a fair trial that observed and respected due process. It would consider Wednesday's ruling before making any further comment.