DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar’s court of appeal on Wednesday upheld a conviction for bribery and misuse of funds against a former employee of the 2022 soccer World Cup organising committee but reduced his jail sentence to three years from five, his lawyers said.
Abdullah Ibhais, who was arrested in 2019 and sentenced in April to five years imprisonment, has said he is being singled out for speaking up for migrant workers in the Gulf Arab state, an assertion echoed by human rights groups.
Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup has come under scrutiny for the gas-rich state’s treatment of migrant workers and approach to LGBT rights.
The country’s tournament organising Supreme Committee said Ibhais’ allegation that the case and his criticisms were linked was “absolutely false”.
A Qatari official said the case had examined strong and credible evidence against Ibhais for soliciting bribes to influence the outcome of a state-funded procurement process.
“Misappropriation of state funds is a serious crime in Qatar, and this is reflected in the court’s decision,” the Qatari official said.
No further details were available about Wednesday’s ruling, which Ibhais can challenge on appeal.
Ibhais, a Jordanian national, was not in court on Wednesday when the judge sentenced him to three years in prison, replacing the previous five year sentence.
Ibhais had been a communications director for the World Cup tournament organisers, the Supreme Committee for Legacy and Delivery. In November 2019 he was arrested and charged with bribery and misuse of funds and in April 2021 sentenced to five years in jail. He was released pending appeal against his conviction but was detained again on Nov. 15.
He told Human Rights Watch and FairSquare that Qatari authorities coerced him into confessing, and his prosecution was linked to his internal criticism of the handling of a 2019 workers strike.
“Every day Abdullah Ibhais remains in jail, more people will know his name, know what he did for the migrant workers who built Qatar’s World Cup, and know the price he has apparently paid for that,” said Nicholas McGeehan, co-director of Britain-based rights group FairSquare.
Ibhais has been on hunger strike since he was detained on Nov. 15, his family told Reuters.
World soccer body FIFA said any person deserved a fair trial that observed and respected due process. It would consider Wednesday’s ruling before making any further comment.
(Editing by William Maclean)