‘Suspicion and paranoia’: Fifa told to demand fair trial for Abdullah Ibhais

Fifa has been urged to intervene in the case of Abdullah Ibhais, a former employee of Qatar’s World Cup committee, who is on a 21-day hunger strike after being detained by police in Doha, otherwise its human rights policy will not be “worth the paper it is written on”.

The warning comes from Human Rights Watch and FairSquare, who have written to Fifa for a second time to say they believe Ibhais’s confession was coerced and that he has been singled out because of his support for migrant workers in Qatar.

Ibhais, who held the position of deputy communications director for the Supreme Committee before being removed from the role in 2019, was sentenced to five years on fraud charges relating to a contract to produce social media content for the 2022 World Cup.

However, Human Rights Watch and Fair Square say Ibhais alleges he was told by public prosecutors “either you sign a confession here or we send you to state security, where they know how to get a confession out of you”.

The letter to Fifa also says: “It bears repeating that the only evidence presented in court against Mr Ibhais was this confession.”

Nick McGeehan, a director of FairSquare, said Ibhais has retracted his confession and is appealing against his sentence. “Increasingly it appears that Abdullah Ibhais is in jail because of suspicion and paranoia, not any evidence of wrongdoing,” he said.

“It is probable he will remain there until Fifa accepts a basic level of responsibility for his wellbeing and demands that he gets the fair trial he deserves.”

Human Rights Watch and FairSquare first wrote to Fifa on 4 October, noting that Ibhais believes it was his internal criticism of the Supreme Committee’s handling of a strike by migrant workers in August 2019 that led to his prosecution and conviction.

That, though, is disputed by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy. In a statement last month it said: “Abdullah Ibhais’s 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.”

A Fifa spokesperson told the Guardian: “The letter from FairSquare was acknowledged and a reply sent on 19 November saying that efforts aimed at ensuring Mr Ibhais receives a fair trial are ongoing, and that Fifa has taken note of their recommendations in that respect. Please also note that Fifa has said any person deserves a trial that is fair and where due process is observed and respected. In the case of Mr Ibhais, we will continue to follow this matter closely.”

Human rights groups believe that is not nearly good enough, given the severity of the punishment Ibhais faces and the influence they have on the Qataris with 11 months to go before the 2022 World Cup.

“If Fifa refuses to step in and advocate for Ibhais to receive a fair trial not based on a coerced confession, it appears that its human rights policy isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.