Security forces in Qatar allegedly detained and sexually abused members of the LGBTQIA+ community until as recently as September, non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

The human rights group said it has documented six cases of severe and repeated beatings and five cases of sexual harassment in police custody between 2019 and 2022.

“Security forces arrested people in public places based solely on their gender expression and unlawfully searched their phones,” Human Rights Watch said. “As a requirement for their release, security forces mandated that transgender women detainees attend conversion therapy sessions at a government-sponsored ‘behavioural healthcare’ center.”

Qatar, which will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in November, has come under intense criticism for human rights violations and abusive labour conditions for the many migrant workers who are building infrastructure ahead of the tournament. Homosexuality is also illegal in the country.

However, in 2020, Qatar had assured that it will welcome LGBTQIA+ visitors for the football World Cup and allow them to fly the rainbow flag.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch said that it had interviewed six members of the LGBTQIA+ community, who confirmed they were held in an underground prison in Doha.

Among those interviewed were four transgender women, one bisexual woman, and one gay man.

“All were detained without charge, in one case for two months in solitary confinement, without access to legal counsel,” the human rights organisation said. “None received any record of having been detained. These acts could constitute arbitrary detention under international human rights law.”

One of the transgender women told Human Rights Watch that she was accused of “imitating women” by security personnels because of her gender expression.

“I was detained for three weeks without charge, and officers repeatedly sexually harassed me,” she alleged. “Part of the release requirement was attending sessions with a psychologist who ‘would make me a man again.’”

She added that one of the officers told her: “You gays are immoral, so we will be the same to you.”

Rasha Younes, an LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch said that Qatari authorities need to end impunity for violence against the community.

“While Qatar prepares to host the World Cup, security forces are detaining and abusing LGBT people simply for who they are, apparently confident that the security force abuses will go unreported and unchecked,” Younes said. “...The world is watching.”