Laws of Associations
When Crown Prince Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani became Emir, Qatar entered into a phase a remarkable liberalization. In April 2003 a new constitution was approved that significantly expanded the rights of Qatari citizens. Articles 44 and 45 of the 2003 constitution guarantee the right of assembly and the right to establish associations, in accordance with the provisions of the law. The law, however, still imposes considerable restrictions on associations. Associations must register with the Ministry of the Interior.
The government does not allow political demonstrations; however; it often permits peaceful demonstrations against Israel’s action against the Palestinians. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs controls the construction of mosques, the administration of clerical affairs and Islamic education. The government does not permit the publication, importation, and distribution of non-Islamic religious literature. A free education public system guaranteed children’s rights.
Political parties do not exist in Qatar, and organized opposition is illegal.
Associations and Unions
Article 45 of the Constitution assures the “freedom to establish societies according to the conditions and circumstances to be laid down by the law.” In May 2004 Law No 12 of 2004, replacing the Law No 8 of 1998, grants citizens the right to establish professional associations, and further legislation grants workers the right to establish trade unions with "the right to go on strike when amicable settlements cannot be reached between employees and employers." Both laws are to go into effect by November 2004.
The government does not sanction independent local human rights organizations, but the Emir announced in 2002 the establishment of a National Committee for Human Rights composed of representatives drawn from government ministries and civil society. In January 2004 the committee held its first activity, a conference on human rights. There are no independent Women’s rights organizations nor has the government permitted the establishment of such organizations.
Media and Government Regulations
Upon his accession to power in 1995, the Emir immediately expanded the independence and the freedom of the press. The official censorship of the domestic press in Qatar was lifted. In particular, the satellite TV channel Al Jazeera, launched in 1997, has played a very important role in the development of civil society in Qatar and has become one of the most important broadcast media in the Middle East. The station gained international reputation for being outspoken in general terms about sensitive issues, even though the station has been careful not to be directly critical of Qatar and its closest allies. None of Qatar’s five daily newspapers is state-owned, but the owners or board members are either high-level government officials or have ties to government officials. Self censorship is generally practiced; there are no formal laws for censoring the media.