The story of Qatari women’s rights defender Noof Al-Maadeed

Human rights defender Noof Al-Maadeed during an interview with Alhurra after her escape to the UK. Screenshot from a video by Alhurra. Fair use.

This post was written by Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), an independent, non-profit organization that promotes freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly in the MENA region.

This article offers an overview of the journey of Noof Al-Maadeed, a woman human rights defender from Qatar. It begins with her departure from her homeland, her subsequent return, and her current disappearance.

Before her disappearance, Al-Maadeed updated her status on her profile on X (formerly Twitter) with the following phrase, “The idiot who returned to her homeland.” 

At 24 years old, Al-Maadeed realized that escaping was her only resource to break free from the nightmare of domestic violence inflicted upon her by her family, particularly her father, as well as the discrimination imposed on women in Qatar. On August 4, 2020, during a television interview, she recounted her escape on November 26, 2019, from Qatar to the United Kingdom via Ukraine using her father's phone, without his knowledge, to obtain permission to travel.

Upon arriving in the UK, she promptly submitted an application for political asylum there, citing domestic violence and the authorities’ failure to provide her with protection. For the first time in her life, she felt free.

In a podcast entitled “Fulfilling Dreams,” she discusses how she was able to achieve her dream of escape and survival, an experience she described as a miracle. She also emphasized the importance of maintaining hope and resolutely advancing toward one’s goal, despite the obstacles encountered along the way.

Defending women's rights in Qatar

During her stay in the UK, Al-Maadeed presented herself as an advocate for Qatari women’s rights, shedding light on the detrimental impact of male guardianship; currently, Qatar is the only remaining country in the Gulf region with a male guardianship law. She explained how this system prevents women from working or traveling without a male guardian’s consent and leaves women who are victims of domestic violence with little protection

In various television interviews and other video recordings, she expressed the loss of safety she felt in Qatar because of the prevalence of domestic violence and the existence of discriminatory laws affecting women’s employment and housing rights.

Al-Maadeed underscored that unmarried women over the age of 18 cannot travel outside the country, secure a government job, or obtain a loan for independent housing without the approval of a male guardian. She also mentioned the unfortunate fate of some young women who tried to assert their independence, as they were placed in mental institutions, prisons or safe shelters, which are similar to detention centres.

Return to her homeland and enforced disappearances

Al-Maadeed withdrew her asylum request in the UK and left the country on September 30, 2021, with the intention of returning to Qatar. She explained that the Qatari authorities promised to provide her with the necessary protection and respect for her human rights upon her return.

However, upon her return to Qatar, she reported receiving threats to her life and sought protection from the local authorities. Soon after, she voiced her concerns publicly about the lack of help.

A particularly alarming concern about her fate arose from a video on Instagram, which has since been removed. In the video, dated October 12, 2021, she mentioned that she had been subjected to assassination attempts by her own family.

On the evening of October 13, 2021, Al-Maadeed stopped reporting on social media and was not heard from for almost three months. This triggered widespread concerns and alarming reports that she might have been detained incommunicado or even killed.

International pressure, including efforts by human rights organisations such as the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), coupled with the imminent opening of the 2022 World Cup, compelled Qatari authorities to take measures to uncover Al-Maadeed’s fate and protect her civil and human rights. On January 9, 2022, she posted a tweet containing a short video confirming that she was safe and in good health.

On March 18, 2023, Al-Maadeed released a series of videos on various social media networks, including her X (formerly Twitter) account, captioned with the following phrase, “The stupid one who returned to her homeland.” These video recordings provide substantial evidence of the widespread violations of her civil and human rights at the hands of the authorities, led by the notorious state security apparatus. This entity is known for its work outside the legal framework and its use of the Qatari judiciary as a tool to target innocent citizens.

In these recordings, Al-Maadeed appears visibly frail, emotionally distressed with tears in her eyes, and exhibits symptoms of severe depression.

In one of these recordings, she draws a stark comparison between the flagrant human rights violations taking place in her country and the situation in North Korea. In another poignant recording, she directly addresses the authorities, asking “If you hate me, why don't you let me go, and why take revenge on me?” 

Noof Al-Madaeed's final video, dated March 18, 2023, depicted her in tears, pouring out her heart as she lamented that there was nothing of her left.

In a third recording, she reflects, “Now I know why I ran away, because the place stinks.” In a particularly distressing fourth serious recording, she tearfully explains how, when she requested the lifting of the travel ban imposed on her, certain employees of the state security apparatus blackmailed her, asking her to meet them. When she inquired if the meeting would take place in their office, they cryptically replied, “A second location.”

These recordings marked the final updates shared by Al-Maadeed, as all news or information about her completely stopped thereafter.

Where is Noof Al-Maadeed?

Despite GCHR’s persistent efforts to secure assurances from the Qatari government and embassies, including the embassy in London, regrettably, all these efforts have failed. 

It is imperative that Qatari authorities provide verifiable evidence to confirm that Al-Maadeed is alive by ensuring her unrestricted communication with the outside world. She must be released from any form of detention, and granted the freedom to travel outside the country if she so desires. At present, all available information strongly indicates that Al-Maadeed is exposed to serious risks to her life and personal freedom.

GCHR urges the international community, especially United Nations mechanisms and governments with influence in Qatar — including European Union member states — to take immediate action and exert pressure on the Qatari authorities.

This pressure is necessary to guarantee Al-Maadeed safety and her right to live freely in Qatar. The government of Qatar cannot continue to disregard global public opinion, which is actively seeking the truth. Its continued silence will undoubtedly be viewed as a clear condemnation of Al-Madeed’s situation. Qatar bears the full responsibility for safeguarding the wellbeing of its citizens, including Noof Al-Maadeed.

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