The censors in Qatar admit to filtering pornography, political criticism of Gulf countries, and material deemed hostile to Islam. The authorities also pervasively filter gay and lesbian content, sexual health resources, and privacy and circumvention tools. Political filtering is highly selective, but journalists self-censor on sensitive issues such as government policies, Islam, and the ruling family.
Results At A Glance
|FILTERING||No evidence of filtering||Suspected filtering||Selective filtering||Substantial filtering||Pervasive filtering|
|OTHER FACTORS||Not Applicable||Low||Medium||High|
|Life expectancy at birth (years)||76|
|Human Development Index (out of 182 countries)||33|
|Rule of Law (scale of 0-5)||3.5|
|Voice and Accountability (scale of 0-5)||1.6|
|EIU Democracy Index (out of 167 countries)||144|
|Digital Opportunity Index (out of 181 countries)||38|
|Internet users (% of population)||40|
Under the leadership of Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar has become more liberal.1 However, any organized opposition to the emirate is illegal, and political parties are nonexistent.2 There are three government branches: the Emir, the partially elected Advisory Council, and the Judiciary.3
The new 2003 Constitution protects privacy,4 “freedom of expression of opinion,”5 and freedom of the press,6 but a human rights report by the U.S. State Government said that, despite the new constitution, “the government continued to restrict civil liberties, such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), press, assembly, and association. Some limitations on religious freedom existed.”7 The report adds that journalists self-censor when it comes to “government policies, material deemed hostile to Islam, the ruling family, and relations with neighboring states.”8 Also, “[f]oreign newspapers and magazines were reviewed and censored for objectionable sexual, religious, and political content.”9 In addition, the government “restricted the peaceful expression of views via the Internet and censored the Internet for political, religious, and pornographic content through a proxy server, which monitored and blocked Web sites, e-mail, and chat rooms through the state-owned Internet service provider (ISP).”10 Article 22 of Qatar’s constitution also has a clause protecting youth from “corruption, exploitation, evils of physical, mental and spiritual neglect.”11
Though only one newspaper is owned by the state, the majority of media is owned by either members of the ruling family or those who have close connections to the government.12 The government subsidizes one of the most famous TV stations in the region, Al-Jazeera. Although the TV station is not hesitant to criticize regional governments, it concentrates more on regional and international news rather than local news.13
Internet in Qatar
The fact that the government recognized the power of the Internet early on explains why Qatar is the second most connected country in the Arab region,16 with a penetration rate of 34 percent (2008).17
Qatar Telecom (Qtel) is the telecommunications service provider licensed by the Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology to provide both fixed and mobile telecommunications services.18 Qtel offers domain name registration, pre-paid Internet cards, instant Internet access (via a telephone line, allowing payment for the Internet through the phone bill), and ADSL lines.19 However, as of November 2006 Qtel’s monopoly on Internet services officially ended.20 Though the licensing procedure for new ISPs has not yet been published or implemented,21 the goal was to “issue licenses to new fixed and mobile providers by the end of 2007.”22
Broadband penetration in Qatar is rapidly increasing. As of April 2008, it stands at 50 percent.23 Qtel had some 1.25 million mobile users as of December 2007, which indicates a more than 100 percent penetration rate in Qatar. Qtel also has about 50,000 customers connected to its 3.5G mobile network.24
Various plans exist to spread Internet access, such as making free wireless Internet available in various parks in Qatar,25 making wireless coverage nationwide,26 and by “Remote Locations services (Wireless Local Loop) that uses Broadband Point-to-Multipoint Radio technology.”27
In Qatar, “Web censorship focuses on three areas: pornography, political criticism of Gulf leaders and anti-Islamic sites” all in the name of “maintain[ing] ethical standards” and protecting “the culture of the society.”28 However, such sites are said to be blocked only for private and home users, while businesses can access the websites.29
Qatar’s Global Information Technology Report 2007-2008 concluded that, even though there are many e-education initiatives in Qatar, parental anxiety might prevent children from enrolling in these initiatives.30 The report claims that in the Qatari society, “the issue of inappropriate content on the Internet is a huge barrier to wholesale adoption of the technology. Some parents resist children's Internet use and a wide technological divide exists between children and their parents.”31
A local media report said that 41 percent of youngsters in Qatar spend most of their summer vacation at Internet cafés, mostly browsing pornographic Web sites, as Internet cafés are able to bypass Qtel’s filtering regime.32
Legal and regulatory framework
Qatar’s Supreme Council for Communications and Information Technology, (ictQatar) is the main regulatory authority in Qatar.33
In 2006 a new Telecommunications law was promulgated.34 Much of the Telecommunications law is dedicated to competition and dominant service providers. Article 23 states that for the purpose of interconnection any service provider can be designated as the dominant service provider in one or more telecommunications markets “in accordance with the competition policy.” Chapter 9 lays out the competition policy; Article 43 describes abuses of dominance.35 No details are available for the licensing of ISPs, only that the General Secretariat is in charge of licensing.36 Chapter 15 states that “power of monitoring and enforcement,” with the permission of the Attorney General and the Chairman of the Board, “may require service providers or others to provide information necessary for exercising its powers, and the information shall be furnished in the form, manner, and time as the government specifies.”37
The last chapter of the law covers offenses and penalties—mostly having to do with penalties that violate the previously mentioned articles, privacy, or security. However, there are two subsets in this chapter which have a broader scope: clause 6 of Article 66 states that any person who uses “a telecommunication network” or allows “such use for the purposes of disturbing, irritating or offending any persons” can be fined or imprisoned for up to one year. Also, under clause 7 of Article 66, “using any facility or telecommunications service in a manner that violates the rules of this Law or other laws” is punishable in the same manner.38 The vague wording of both these articles restricts Internet users, as they can be applied in various cases.
According to Qtel, Internet censorship revolves around three main areas: pornography, political criticism of Gulf countries, and sites containing materials deemed offensive to Islam. However, Internet users in Qatar have complained that Qtel has blocked non-obscene or non-offensive Web sites. Qatar’s telecom regulator ictQATAR said it does not advise Qtel on blocking Internet sites and that Qtel blocks sites in accordance with the guidelines issued by law enforcment authorities.39
In July 2008, ictQATAR allowed QTel and Vodafone Qatar to provide voice services to the public and made it legal for any person or business to use VoIP services for voice calls for their own use. Businesses within the State of Qatar are prohibited from selling VoIP calls or services to the public without a license issued by ictQATAR.40
There are no reports of specific Internet surveillance in Qatar, but a report by Reporters Without Borders said that Qtel, “has the means to spy on messages sent through the other ISPs.”41
A U.S. State Department Human Rights report said that the government of Qatar censors the Internet through a proxy server that monitors and blocks Web sites, e-mail, and chat rooms through the state-owned ISP.42
ONI testing results
ONI conducted in-country tests using Qtel. Qtel was found to censor pornography and sex-related sites pervasively. Web sites that offer critical views of Islam (www.answering-islam.org, www.islameyat.com, www.prophetofdoom.net) were also blocked.
There is also very selective filtering of political content. Examples include www.qatarsucks.com, a Web site that claims to expose the poor living conditions of “hundreds of thousands of vulnerable workers who have been systematically victimized in Qatar.” The other example is www.arabtimes.com, the US based news Web site which is often critical of Arab leaders including Qatar’s royal family.
Web sites about sexual health issues, HIV, circumcision, and birth control were also extensively blocked, including “Go Ask Alice,” a health question and answer Internet resource produced by the Alice! Health Promotion Program at Columbia University (www.goaskalice.columbia.edu). Other Web sites blocked in this category include www.sexualhealth.com, www.positive.org, www.teenhealthfx.com, www.contraception.net, www.circumcision.org, and www.ultimatebirthcontrol.com.
Dating and escort services Web sites were also blocked (www.kelly-escort.ch, www.online-dating.org, www.luxuryjoy.com), as were GLBT Web sites, including many that do not contain explicit content (www.al-fatiha.org, www.glas.org, www.simplygay.com, www.gayromeo.com, www.lesboerotica.net, www.gayhealth.com, www.bglad.com, www.lesbians-against-violence.com).
Circumvention tools, anonymizers, and privacy tools were extensively blocked (psiphon.civisec.org, www.anonymization.net, www.w3privacy.com, www.peacefire.org, www.stupidcensorship.com, www.anonymizer.com). Additionally, a few Web sites that provide information on hacking and cracking were found blocked (www.passwordhq.com, www.allpasswords.com, www.superpasswords.com). There was also sporadic filtering of miscellaneous sites such as www.boingboing.net and www.collegehumor.com.
Qatar is the second most connected country in the Arab region, but Internet users have heavily censored access to the Internet. The censors publicly acknowledge blocking pornography, political criticism of Gulf countries, and sites deemed offensive to Islam, but Internet users complain that non-obscene or non-offensive Web sites are also blocked. In addition to porn, gay and lesbian content, and dating and escorting services, results show extensive filtering of content on sex health issues - including that produced by academic institutions - and online privacy and circumvention tools. Political filtering is limited, but journalists practice self-censorship and avoid reporting on sensitive issues. Interestingly, the filtering in Qatar, which is relatively transparent (a block page is served), is advised by the law-enforcement authorities rather than the telecom regulator.
- 1. “Country Profile: Qatar,” BBC News, March 11, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/country_profiles/791921.stm.
- 2. United Nations Development Programme on Governance in the Arab Region, “Democratic Governance, Civil Society, Qatar,” http://www.undp-pogar.org/countries/civil.asp?cid=15.
- 3. United Nations Development Programme on Governance in the Arab Region, “Arab Country Profiles, Qatar in Brief,” http://www.pogar.org/countries/country.asp?cid=15.
- 4. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Article 37, The Constitution of Qatar, 2003, http://english.mofa.gov.qa/details.cfm?id=80.
- 5. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Article 47, The Constitution of Qatar, 2003, http://english.mofa.gov.qa/details.cfm?id=80.
- 6. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Article 48, The Constitution of Qatar, 2003, http://english.mofa.gov.qa/details.cfm?id=80.
- 7. United States Department of State, “Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Qatar,” March 11, 2008, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100604.htm.
- 8. Ibid.
- 9. Ibid.
- 10. Ibid.
- 11. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Article 22, The Constitution of Qatar, 2003, http://english.mofa.gov.qa/details.cfm?id=80.
- 12. United States Department of State, “Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Qatar,” March 11, 2008, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100604.htm.
- 13. William A. Rugh, “Do National Political Systems Still Influence Arab Media?” Arab Media and Society, May 2007, at http://www.arabmediasociety.com/index.php?article=225&p=2.
- 14. “Country Profile: Qatar,” BBC News, March 11, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/country_profiles/791921.stm.
- 15. United Nations Development Programme on Governance in the Arab Region, “Statistics and Indicators: Qatar,” http://www.undp-pogar.org/countries/stats.asp?cid=15.
- 16. Arab Advisors Group, “UAE, Qatar and Bahrain are the Arab World’s highest adopters of telecommunication services,” June 4, 2007, http://www.arabadvisors.com/Pressers/presser-040607.htm.
- 17. International Telecommunications Union, “ITU Internet Indicators 2008,” http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/icteye/Reporting/ShowReportFrame.aspx?ReportNam....
- 18. See Qtel’s Web site at http://www.qtel.com.qa/AboutUs.do.
- 19. Qtel, “Products and Services- Residential: Internet Services,” at http://www.qtel.com.qa/ParentProdSrvcesLinks.do?idnum=6&idnum=8&prodtype=1.
- 20. “Qatar opens its Telecoms Sector: Competition means Consumers and Small Businesses Win,” November 11, 2006, http://www.ict.gov.qa/output/NewsPage.aspx?PageID=389.
- 21. IctQatar, Press Release, “ictQatar seeks views from Telecommunications Carriers and Operators on Telecommunications Licensing Process: First official step in Telecoms Liberalization in Qatar,” March 6, 2007, http://www.ict.gov.qa/files/License%20press%20release_English.pdf; see also “Regulator seeks views on telecom licensing,” Gulf Times, March 7, 2007, http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=136719....
- 22. ictQatar, “Regulation- Service Provider,” http://www.ict.gov.qa/output/Page17.asp.
- 23. “The Peninsular Broadband penetration in Qatar at 50pc: Qtel,” The Peninsula, April 2, 2008, http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/Display_news.asp?section=Business_News&....
- 24. Pratap John, “Qtel handles over 444mn text messages,” The Gulf Times, January 28, 2008, http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=198348....
- 25. “ictQatar Plans Free Internet Parks for Public,” Gulf Times, Feb 13, 2007, http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=132631....
- 26. “Qtel Plans Nationwide Wifi Hotspots,” Gulf Times, July 20 2007, http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=162054....
- 27. “Qatar: Qtel Expands Coverage to Remote Areas,” Mena Report, December 12, 2005, http://www.menareport.com/en/business/192492/&searchWords=Qatar%20Qtel.
- 28. Anwar Elshamy, “Websites blocked mainly on ethical grounds: Qtel,” Gulf Times, August 8, 2006, http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=101493....
- 29. Ibid.
- 30. “Study finds digital divide in Qatar society,” The Peninsula, April 12, 2008, http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/Display_news.asp?section=Local_News&mon....
- 31. Ibid.
- 32. “Porn viewers throng Cybercafes,” The Peninsula, August 11, 2007, http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/Display_news.asp?section=Local_News&sub....
- 33. “Qatar's Supreme Council for Communications and Information Technology (ictQatar),” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, http://english.mofa.gov.qa/details.cfm?id=115.
- 34. ICTQatar, Decree Law No. (34) of 2006 on the promulgation of the Telecommunications Law, “This is an unofficial English translation of the Telecommunications Law of the State of Qatar which will be adopted and applied by Supreme Council for Information and Communications Technology(ictQATAR),” http://www.ict.gov.qa/files/elaw.pdf.
- 35. Ibid.
- 36. Ibid, Articles 9, 10, 11, 12.
- 37. Ibid, Chapter Fifteen, Articles 62 & 63.
- 38. Ibid, Chapter Sixteen, Articles 66-72.
- 39. “Qtel ‘goes by local laws’ in blocking websites,” Gulf Times, September 18, 2007, http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=173496....
- 40. Qatar Voice over Internet Protocal (VoIP) Policy, http://www.ict.gov.qa/output/NewsPage.aspx?PageID=781.
- 41. Reporters Without Borders, “Qatar Country Report,” http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=10765.
- 42. United States Department of State, “Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Qatar,” March 11, 2008, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100604.htm.