OUTinPerth speaks to Peter Tatchell about his Qatar protest

Human rights activist Peter Tatchell has answered his critics following his protest in Qatar earlier this week. Just weeks away from the start of soccer’s World Cup commencing, Tatchell drew attention to human rights issues in the country.

On Tuesday Tatchell’s foundation in London and media representatives in Australia, released statements highlighting that Tatchell had staged a protest in Doha, reporting him as having being arrested and his “whereabouts unknown”. The news was posted to media sites around the globe.

A short time later an update was issued that said Tatchell had been released and would be soon be leaving the country. However there was also immediate criticism of his actions, with claims that he had ignored the wishes of the local LGBT+ community and suggestion his actions may have put local people in danger.

The Qatari government was also quick to criticise how Tatchell was portraying his interaction with local police – they claimed he was never arrested. While local media disputed suggestions his whereabouts at one stage were unknown, saying police had simply asked him to move a few metres away from where he was holding his protest.

Tatchell told OUTinPerth that while some members of Qatar’s LGBT+ community have questioned his actions, others had asked him to help bring an international spotlight to human rights abuses in the gulf state.

“My goal was to shine a light on Qatar’s abuse of LGBT+ people, women, and migrants rights. I think I’ve achieved that with massive global media coverage. It has raised public awareness across the world and added some further pressure on FIFA and the Qatari regime.”

“I have received some criticism online, but overwhelmingly the response of LGBT+ people that I know in Qatar has been positive.”

Tatchell said he staged his protest for members of the local LGBT+ community had encouraged him to take action.

“For many weeks I’ve been in touch with LGBT+ Qataris who have urged me and other people to stage protests and to organise international media coverage of the abuse of LGBT+ human rights, so I was acting in response to their appeals.”

The activist said it was great to see Australia’s national soccer team adding their voice to those concerned about human rights.

“I applaud the decision of the Socceroos to speak out, they have led the way. I hope other national teams will follow their example by making public statements against human rights violations in Qatar.

“I’m also urging national team captains to devote just 30 seconds of the post-match press conferences to call for universal human rights in Qatar.” Tatchell said.

Tatchell was adamant that the media releases put out by his foundation were an accurate description of what was occurring at the time of his interaction with Qatari authorities.

“I was detained against my will for 49 minutes by nine officers from state security and the police. My placard was confiscated, I was not allowed to phone or contact anyone.”

Tatchell said just before he was approached by police he’d fired off a one word SMS to his colleagues in London, “arrested” he texted.

“I wasn’t able to then communicate with my foundation for another hour, so during that time they did not know where I was or, what was happening to me.”

While the activist has staged many similar protests in the past, in a world increasingly filled with social media and a hyper-speed news cycle, this outing saw the entire protest, his detention, a wave of criticism, and reactions from the government – all play out in under just a few hours.

“I’ve been overwhelmed with media requests, and requests for information from activists around the world. At the last count there been more than 3,000 global media reports.” Tatchell said, “so it has certainly been very effective in raising public awareness about human rights violations in Qatar.” Tatchell said.

The activist said he still believed his type of protest worked well, saying all throughout history non-violent actions had helped shine a light on human rights abuses and created momentum for reforms.

Not long after Tatchell’s protest Britain’s Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly said LGBT+ soccer fans heading to the World Cup should be “respectful” of the country’s laws and customs.

Tatchell said it was “absolutely outrageous” that the British Foreign Secretary was emphasising the importance of fans respecting the laws of Qatar.

“This is collusion with a dictatorship.” Tatchell said. “He hasn’t criticised the Qatari tyranny, he’s spoken on demanding that fans respect the culture – that’s collusion with a homophobic, sexist, and racist regime. Even worse he’s planning to go to the World Cup as the Foreign Secretary. That’s like sending someone to Nazi Olympics in Berlin in 1936.”

Tatchell said he remains confident that in time countries like Qatar will one day change their laws.

“I have absolute confidence that eventually every LGBT+ person on this planet will be free and equal, but in some countries, especially in Muslim-majority countries, that’s going to be a long time coming.

“There has been some progress in Muslim countries, like Lebanon and Tunisia, but it’s very patchy and it’s also included a backlash. I’d be very surprised if it was another century or more to win universal human rights for LGBT+ people across the planet.

“But like slavery and the denial of votes to women, LGBT+ freedoms will come eventually.” Tatchell said.

Graeme Watson

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