Amnesty says new Qatar law 'curbs freedom of expression'

DUBAI (Reuters) - A new Qatari law criminalizing the publishing of "false or biased" statements could "significantly restrict freedom of expression", rights group Amnesty International said on Monday.

The addition to Qatar's penal code published on Sunday allows for imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to 100,000 Qatari riyals ($27,000) for broadcasting, publishing, or republishing "false or biased rumors, statements or news, or inflammatory propaganda, domestically or abroad, with the intent to harm national interests, stir up public opinion, or infringe on the social system or the public system of the state".

London-based Amnesty International said the new law is a "worrying regression" from commitments Qatar made in 2018 when it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The ICCPR has been ratified by 173 countries in all.

"Qatar already has a host of repressive laws, but this new legislation deals another bitter blow to freedom of expression in the country and is a blatant breach of international human rights law," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's Middle East research director.

"It is deeply troubling that the Qatari Emir is passing legislation that can be used to silence peaceful critics."

Qatar's government communications office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the change to the law.

Punishments "will be increased if the crime is committed during wartime", according to the amendment, which was published in Qatar's official gazette.

The Gulf state, ruled by a one-family absolute monarchy, will host the 2022 World Cup. In the run-up to the soccer tournament Qatar has come under international criticism for its treatment of migrant workers and has introduced various labor reforms.

(Reporting by Alex Cornwell, Eric Knecht and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Giles Elgood)