Fifa will not intervene over former World Cup media officer jailed in Qatar

Fifa will not intervene in the case of Abdullah Ibhais, a former employee of Qatar’s World Cup committee who is on hunger strike after being detained by police in Doha.

Football’s governing body said it would not be taking any action but would “continue to follow this matter closely”, after Ibhais was arrested at his house on Monday.

Ibhais held the position of deputy communications director for the Supreme Committee, the Qatari body responsible for the delivery of next year’s World Cup. He was removed from the role in 2019 after being accused of fraud over a contract to produce social media content for the tournament. A trial in Doha ended with Ibhais being sent to jail for five years, before he was released on bail pending an appeal earlier this year. Ibhais, who is of Palestinian descent and holds a Jordanian passport, has always denied the charges. He says he has been singled out by Qatar because of his support for migrant workers in the country.

Ibhais’s latest arrest followed the publication of an article by the investigative website Josimar, which detailed WhatsApp messages apparently from the ‘Crisis Comms’ group of the Supreme Committee during a strike by migrant workers in 2019. In those messages the head of the Supreme Committee, Hassan al-Thawadi, is seen to argue that the communications team should avoid referring to World Cup workers being part of the strike and that the team should “put a narrative” on delays which had seen workers go without pay for months. Ibhais then says “we can’t say that there were no WC workers striking”.

In a separate conversation with the executive director of communications, Fatima al-Nuaimi, Ibhais says of the strike: “We need to fix it then do the PR part. Lying is not Qatar’s way and should not be.” These conversations took place on 4 August 2019. On 12 November Ibhais was arrested on suspicion of fraud.

On Wednesday Ibhais’s family released a statement accusing Fifa of “turning a blind eye” to his fate and said he had not been given a fair trial, an accusation supported by representatives of Human Rights Watch. “We demand a serious, prompt and meaningful action from Fifa to stop the extreme injustice put upon Abdullah by the authorities of the country they chose to host the World Cup,” the family said, “[and] to press for a fair trial for Abdullah and for his immediate release – as there is no justification for his detention.”

Ibhais says he was denied access to legal representation during his interrogation by police and signed a confession that was false. Qatari authorities, meanwhile, argue they have audio and visual evidence of criminal activity on his part.

On Thursday Fifa responded publicly for the first time. In a statement released to the Guardian, it said it had spoken with Ibhais “several times” and “carefully reviewed” the available information.

“It is Fifa’s position that any person deserves a trial that is fair and where due process is observed and respected,” it said. “Fifa has duly received the complaint from Mr Ibhais and replied to the complaint in writing, having carefully reviewed the available information about his case. We have since been in touch with our Qatari counterparts and on several occasions with Mr Ibhais. Fifa will continue to follow this matter closely.”

In a statement released to the Guardian, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy said: “Abdullah Ibhais’ claim that he was targeted for taking a position on a labour-related matter is a fabrication and a lie.

“The allegations presented by Ibhais have no credibility. The case against Ibhais is rooted in evidence [of alleged manipulation and misuse of state funds], and has absolutely nothing to do with personal opinions or actions on labour-related matters.

“The reality was that no World Cup workers were involved in the strike. Any suggestion that the use of the words ‘narrative’ and ‘spin’ indicates a desire to cover-up is wholly false.”

On Friday Amnesty International added to the voices calling for action on Ibhais’s detention. “Abdullah Ibhais was arrested just days after he spoke publicly about his case, in what appears to amount to arbitrary detention in retaliation for speaking out about his experiences,” said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Qatari authorities must immediately launch an independent investigation into Abdullah’s claims of ill-treatment, and quash his conviction and sentence if they are found to have been based on a coerced ‘confession’. Qatar must ensure fair trial standards are upheld in all cases, including ensuring all defendants are provided with legal representation from the moment of their arrest.”