Qatar has removed whole articles from the Doha edition of The New York Times for highlighting the plight of the emirate's LGBTQ community.
According to ABC News, larges sections of the Qatari edition of the New York paper have been censored with a note that said "exceptionally removed." Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, as it is in many other Arab countries, and homosexual acts can be punished under current laws.
Human rights groups point out that the LGBTQ community in the country face discrimination and social stigma, and have called on the emirate to reform its policies toward the marginalized group.
Are LGBTQ individuals "not welcome" in Qatar?
“As the next host of the World Cup, Qatar should be responsible for implementing FIFA’s human rights policies as an example to the participating countries,” Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives for Human Rights Watch wrote in a formal complaint to FIFA's human rights reporting mechanism, The Advocate reported Saturday.
A March 29 op-ed article by Worden for The New York Times was one of the articles censored by Qatari authorities. The article was titled: "Will FIFA Force Russia to Make the World Cup Friendly to LGBT People?" Like Qatar, Russia received significant backlash from rights groups and activists supporting the LGBTQ community, leading up to and as it hosted the 2018 World Cup this summer.
In her complaint to FIFA, Worden argues that censoring the articles violates Qatar's required commitment to uphold minimum human rights standards, including press freedom.
"The censorship of the media has also been noticed by the LGBTQ community as a sign that they are not welcome in Qatar," she wrote.
FIFA launched an assessment of the issue
Responding to Worden's concerns, FIFA's human rights manager Andreas Graf explained that “Qatar as a host country is not subject to FIFA’s Statutes, nor is it bound by FIFA’s Human Rights Policy and related FIFA regulations."
A FIFA spokesperson told ABC News that the international football association is aware of the censorship issue and "launched an assessment of the processes that led to that" in June. "We will decide on appropriate further measures based on the results of this assessment and the engagement with our Qatari counterparts."
The New York Times told the U.S. news channel that the decision to censor the articles was made by a local vendor or distributor.
"While we understand that our publishing partners are sometimes faced with local pressures, we deeply regret and object to any censorship of our journalism and are in regular discussions with our distributors about this practice,” a spokesperson for the newspaper said.
Censorship is nothing new in Qatar
Justin Martin, a journalism professor at Northwestern University's Qatar campus, told ABC News that censorship of the foreign press is nothing new in the country.
"They’ve been censoring ‘sensitive’ images, like Kim Kardashian’s neckline, though more recently they started deleting words (usually ‘sex’), and very recently whole articles," Martin said. “For years, I grabbed my New York Times early in the morning, and I flipped through the see what was in it. Now I flip through it to see what’s not.”
While Qatar has previously been hailed positively by academics and journalists for launching Al Jazeera, which was seen by many as a step toward greater press freedom in the Arab world, it has continued to crackdown on media freedom and dissent at home. Al Jazeera has also drawn criticism from other regional countries, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt blocking the channel in 2017 as part of a diplomatic blockade of Qatar.
The once popular local news site Doha News was blocked in the country back in Dec. 2016 after it published an article written by a gay Qatari, detailing his personal experience living in the country. The news site also published an article in October of that year that criticized the country's cybercrime law.