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World Cup fans unprepared for Doha dangers

Football fans may be taking a one way trip to FIFA 2022 this year

The World Cup in Doha has the potential of being the Black Friday of wrongful detentions,” says Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and Due Process International, “Because of the overflow of game attendees into the UAE; visitors will be subject to the brutish police forces and regressive laws of two of the most corrupt and capricious countries in the Gulf. Huge sports events can be chaotic, tense, and boisterous in the best of circumstances, and in most of the countries that have hosted the World Cup, police and the public are prepared for that – this is not the case in Qatar or the UAE.”

Stirling has been campaigning against wrongful arrests and unjust convictions across the Gulf States for nearly a decade and a half, and is acutely aware of how easily travellers can inadvertently run afoul of the law. “In places like Doha and Dubai, there is an impression of Westernisation, tolerance, and sophistication, but this is largely a façade. These are deeply conservative and authoritarian countries, with Third World legal systems where the police are often illiterate and antagonistic to foreigners; torture in custody is routine; and trials are a farce. Arrests are a prelude to certain conviction, and the slightest misunderstanding or perceived disrespect can very quickly land Westerners in jail.

Between Stirling’s twin organisations, she handles thousands of cases per year, but anticipates the unprecedented deluge of tourists during the World Cup to result in a corresponding surge in pleas for assistance. “Roughly 600,000 people visit the UAE and Qatar every month in an average year; that number is expected to be more than doubled this November and December as over 1.5 million people descend on Doha to watch the championship. We are likely to see more cases of abusive arrests in just those two months than we normally see in half a year. Average tourists come to these countries unprepared for the risks and unaware of the dangers, and football fans are even less likely to take these things into consideration.