BEIRUT: Police in Qatar have arbitrarily detained and abused members of the LGBTQ community ahead of the World Cup next month, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday.
The Gulf state, where homosexuality is illegal, strongly denied that anyone has been detained because of their sexual orientation and condemned the rights group's reporting.
HRW said it had "documented six cases of severe and repeated beatings and five cases of sexual harassment in police custody between 2019 and 2022".
The most recent case was in September, the US-based rights group said.
Four transgender women, one bisexual woman and one gay man all told how members of the interior ministry's Preventive Security Department detained them in an underground prison in Doha.
There "they verbally harassed and subjected detainees to physical abuse, ranging from slapping to kicking and punching until they bled", HRW said.
"One woman said she lost consciousness. Security officers also inflicted verbal abuse, extracted forced confessions, and denied detainees access to legal counsel, family, and medical care."
One Qatari bisexual woman said she was beaten until she "lost consciousness several times".
The report added that a Qatari transgender woman told how she was held once for two months in an underground cell and once for six weeks.
"They beat me every day and shaved my hair. They also made me take off my shirt and took a picture of my breasts," she said.
She said she had suffered from depression and was afraid to go out in public since.
In all cases, the detainees were forced to unlock their phones and had contact information on other LGBTQ people taken, HRW said.
Sex outside marriage and homosexual sex are both illegal in the conservative Muslim state, and can be punished by up to seven years in prison.
But none of those detained said they had been charged.
HRW said the six appeared to have been held under a 2002 law that allows for up to six months' detention without charge if "'there exist well-founded reasons to believe that the defendant may have committed a crime', including 'violating public morality'".
A Qatar government official said the allegations were "categorically and unequivocally false".
"Qatar does not tolerate discrimination against anyone, and our policies and procedures are underpinned by a commitment to human rights for all."
The official said the government has held talks with HRW and other critical groups, but the latest "claims were not brought to our attention until they were first reported in the media. If Human Rights Watch had contacted us, we would have been able to disprove the allegations."
The official insisted that no "conversion centres" operate in the country, though it does have a rehabilitation clinic that supports individuals suffering from behavioural conditions such as substance dependence, eating disorders and mood disorders.
The official said HRW's move to "release demonstrably false information... compromises their self-proclaimed commitment to reporting the truth".
The rights group called on the government in Doha to "put an end to security force ill-treatment against LGBTQ people, including by halting any government-sponsored programs aimed at conversion practices".
HRW also urged FIFA, football's world body, to press Qatar to launch reforms that protect LGBTQ people.
Qatar's World Cup organisers have stepped up assurances in recent weeks that all fans would be "welcome" at the World Cup.
FIFA has said that LGBTQ rainbow flags would be allowed in and around stadiums.
England's Harry Kane is one of several captains of European teams who have said they will wear "OneLove" arm bands at World Cup games to highlight rights concerns.