World Cup 2022: What awaits fans locked up in prison in Qatar

Qatar riot police

Security is expected to be tight for fans traveling to support their team at the World Cup (Image: Getty)

Thousands of fans are expected Qatar to support their teams over the next three weeks.

The World Cup is the greatest prize in sport and the vast majority will manage to enjoy it without getting themselves into trouble.

Of course, there’s always a minority who manage to find themselves on the wrong side of the law – and despite limited access to alcohol, chances are a British fan or two could be among them.

Here’s what fans who will be locked down in Qatar can expect and what they’ll experience inside.

What happens when you are locked up in Qatar?

If a traveling fan is stupid or unlucky enough to end up in a Qatari prison, the first thing they do is have all their personal belongings – including money – confiscated.

Detainees should be allowed to call their family, the embassy or a lawyer, but after that access to the outside world is severely restricted.

They are initially beaten for 24 hours, but extensions – which are almost always granted – can be obtained by authorities, putting someone behind bars without a trial for up to six months.

For English speaking fans, the language barrier could pose significant problems as all investigations are conducted in Arabic and access to translators is patchy.

An aerial view of a prison in Qatar

Anyone held for any length of time is likely to be taken to the country’s main prison, Doha Central Prison (Image: Google Maps).

When a detainee is taken from a cell at a smaller police station to a courthouse or to the Central Prison, the main detention center in Doha, it becomes altogether more uncomfortable.

During transport, the prisoners are handcuffed and chained to the legs and subjected to an “intimate body search”.

Male prisoners may have their heads shaved upon arrival at the main prison.

Anyone detained awaiting further investigation during the World Cup will “most likely” be washed up in central prison and may be forced to wear a prison uniform, according to the UK government’s official advice.

can you get a pardon

Under Qatar’s legal system, the country’s ruling Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, can grant a pardon in certain circumstances if an application is made through the British Embassy.

To get one, the prisoner must write a letter saying how sorry they are for the crime and encouraging the UK official council to spread the word because they miss home and want to make a change in their life .

However, criticism of the prison conditions is out of the question, even if they have an adverse effect on the health of the inmates.

The UK’s official advice continues: “Similarly, you must avoid any criticism of Qatar’s judicial system and never plead your innocence (even if you believe you are) as this implies fault on the part of the system that convicted you.”

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, at a summit

The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani has the power to forgive but needs to be persuaded (Image: Getty)

Does what happens in Qatar stay in Qatar?

If a person commits a serious crime such as drug dealing or sexual assault, the Qatar embassy is required to report this to the UK police.

This means that it will be added to your “criminal record” in case you require Disclosure and Blocking Service screening for certain jobs.

It is unclear whether this would be the case if a Brit were arrested for a minor offense (e.g. drinking alcohol in public) which would only justify a small fine if committed in Britain.

What help is there for prisoners?

If a traveling fan is arrested in Qatar, authorities should allow them to get in touch with the British embassy as soon as possible (although the UK government officially advises they could find out “much quicker” via friends or relatives) .

Embassy staff can take up to 24 hours to contact you, and restrictions on how much officials can share with the family without your express consent could make contact even more difficult.

After speaking to the detainee in person or by phone, an embassy staff member can conduct social checks, provide contact details for an English-speaking lawyer, take note of complaints and arrange for a money transfer from home.

But consular staff are limited in what they can do. For example, they certainly cannot magically bail people accused of a crime out of jail, provide legal advice, or pay bail or legal fees.

Are you allowed to bring visitors to jail in Qatar?

Under Qatari prison rules, visitation rights only apply to family members, but can be extended to friends with permission in certain cases.

There are no set rules on visiting hours and “they are subject to change without notice”, with in-person consular visits generally only possible on Mondays.

That means anyone locked down in Qatar can expect to leave at some point without seeing a friendly face.

Home accessories supplied by visitors will also be severely restricted, especially books or magazines subject to censorship.

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Justin Scaccy

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