Gilbert Ignatius Source: Gilbert Ignatius/The i

'You Have No Rights. This is Qatar.' Airline Employee Deported for Tinted Moisturizer Describes Harrowing Arrest

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 4 MIN.

A gay former employee of Qatar Airways described being targeted by police, accused of being a sex worker, and deported to his native Indonesia after he was found to be wearing tinted moisturizer.

Gilbert Ignatius, 32, was celebrating his birthday with friends in Doha, the capital city of Qatar, last May when the group was rounded up by police, British news source The i reported.

Ignatius had worked in Qatar since 2016 when the country's Criminal Investigation Department detained him and his friends as they celebrated with drinks at a hotel bar.

"Without our consent they just wiped our faces with wet wipes," Ignatius told The i. "I said: 'Excuse me, you have no consent.'" That made no difference, and, Ignatius said, "They found mine and my friend's face was stained with tinted moisturizer."

"Not make-up," The i clarified; "just the slightest hint of color."

But that was enough to get them taken to the police station, despite lip service around the country's hosting of the World Cup soccer match less than half a year earlier. The sporting event drew criticism from those who wondered why a nation with the human rights and anti-LGBTQ+ record of Qatar would be awarded such a prestigious event. The rhetoric suggested that the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Qatar would improve – but, The i noted, the exact opposite is true, and "the situation for sexual minorities is darkening."

"A crackdown on anyone who doesn't conform to strict gender roles is now under way," the publication reported.

Ignatius' testimony verified deteriorating conditions in the extremely homophobic nation. Gilbert tearfully told the publication that when he had been taken to the police station, "The first thing they asked me was, 'How much do you earn every night? How much if you fuck him and how much if he fucks you?'"

Ignatius decried the baseless accusation that he was a sex worker, but the police insisted he could not afford his accessories – including a belt and bag from Hermes – otherwise. They refused to listen when Ignatius explained his parents are business owners in Indonesia and he can afford such luxuries, and when he insisted, "I am not a prostitute," the officer "slapped my right cheek."

When Ignatius asked to contact the Indonesian embassy, the response from the officer was: "You have no rights. This is Qatar."

"The officers went through Gilbert's phone, found a picture of him shirtless at Bangkok Pride, and also used this against him, as apparent evidence of homosexuality and prostitution," The i relayed.

"They forced us to sign a paper, written in Arabic," Ignatius told the publication – a language he does not know, so he has no idea what he supposedly confessed to.

Ignatius was summarily fired by Qatar Airways and deported.

He told The i that his experience was not unique.

"It's getting worse," the airline worker, who is now employed by Australian carrier JetStar Airways, said. "Right after the World Cup, a similar incident that later happened to me has been happening a lot. There were lots of undercover police doing this in shopping centers, restaurants, clubs and bars, targeting mostly people from emerging countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand."

As with Ignatius, the "evidence" is flimsy.

"They're wiping people's faces," Ignatius said, "and those found using foundation or anything that is tinted, are taken into custody and deported."

Ignatius took issue with the assurances given by soccer star David Beckham, who sparked controversy when he became a spokesperson for Qatar in the run-up to last year's World Cup. Since the event, Beckham has doubled down on his version, in which he insists that he "had a lot of conversations with the LGBTQ community when I was there. They said they had enjoyed the games and they felt it was the safest World Cup they'd had for a long time."

But daily life for LGBTQ+ people in Qatar is, according to The i, anything but safe, especially in the wake of the World Cup. The i referenced advocate Dr. Nas Mohamed, a Qatari man who dared to come out publicly and call out the Qatari government for its reported abuses.

Now living in the U.S., Dr. Mohamed told The i that "The arrests got worse" and the Qatari government "doubled down hard" after the country hosted the prestigious global sporting event.

"It has been brutal," Dr. Mohamed said. "There were so many arrests. And now they shifted the operations from the Preventive Security Department to another arm of the Ministry of Interior which is a lot more vicious."

"They have been jailing, beating and abusing LGBT people. Three people I've been in touch with were captured in the last 30 days and were abused."

The i referenced its own previous report in which it had covered "state-sponsored violence committed against those living in Qatar: The rape, imprisonment, deportation, and hunting down of LGBTQ people."

"Gay migrant workers described how officers from the Preventive Security Department posed as gay men on dating apps, luring them to hotel rooms, only to arrest them," the publication detailed. "One man told how six officers raped him one by one before deporting him back to the Philippines, where he remains traumatized."

The alleged criminal conduct of the police extends, The i added, to blackmail. Ignatius told the publication that "several gay men that he knows – friends, acquaintances and former colleagues – have been targeted by officials on gay dating apps only for the officer to demand money from them, threatening them with arrest if they don't comply," the article said.

"This has happened more times than I can remember," Ignatius recounted. "The officers make money from it."

Now, Ignatius wants to raise the alarm.

"I need this story to be heard all over the world," he told The i. "LGBTQ people need to know what trap is waiting for them there. I don't want this to happen to other people."

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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