An ex-Qatar Airways flight attendant claims he was falsely accused of being a male prostitute before being terminated by the airline and deported from Qatar because he was wearing tinted moisturiser during a night out in Doha earlier this year to celebrate his 32nd birthday.
Gilbert Ignatius, who is originally from Indonesia, moved to Doha in 2016 to work as a member of cabin crew for Qatar Airways and worked throughout the pandemic and the FIFA World Cup before his life was suddenly turned upside down on May 14.
Along with a small group of friends, Gilbert says he had gone to the swanky Mondrian Hotel in Doha to celebrate his birthday before moving on to another hotel at around 11 pm when the party was unexpectedly interrupted.
Gilbert told the i newspaper that a security guard initially approached his party, telling them that officers from the Qatari police Criminal Investigation Division wanted to talk to them.
The CID officers led them to a security room, where, without consent, they wiped a wet wipe across Gilbert’s face. The wet wipe revealed that Gilbert and his friend were wearing a tinted moisturiser – something that, in the eyes of the police, apparently suggested wrongdoing.
Gilbert was taken to the police station, where officers insinuated that he was a male prostitute.
“The first thing they asked me was, ‘how much do you earn every night? How much if you f*** him and how much if he f*** you? I know what you’re doing,'” Gilbert recounted to the i.
When Gilbert protested his innocence, the officer allegedly slapped him across the face. The police seemingly suggested that the fact that Gilbert owned a bag and leather belt from luxury French fashion house Hermes was further evidence of wrongdoing.
Gilbert asked to speak to the Indonesian embassy for consular assistance, but his request was rejected. An officer allegedly told him that in Qatar, he “has no rights”.
After going through Gilbert’s phone, the police found photos of him at a Bangkok pride event – yet more evidence, in the eyes of the police, that Gilbert was a prostitute. Before being released, Gilbert was made to sign a document written in Arabic despite the fact that he didn’t understand what was written.
The next day, Qatar Airways suspended Gilbert, and the airline seized his passport.
Gilbert was stuck in Doha until June 4 when a Qatar Airways representative drove him to a border post near Saudi Arabia, where his passport was handed to the police, and he was told he was being deported.
Given just three days to pack up his stuff, Gilbert was deported from Qatar and told that he was banned from ever returning.
“I need this story to be heard all over the world,” Gilbert says. “LGBTQ people need to know what trap is waiting for them there. I don’t want this to happen to other people.”
Homosexuality in Qatar is illegal, and according to the US State Department, penalties for consensual same-sex relations between men include lashing, lengthy prison sentences and deportation.
Qatar maintains a ban on shops selling rainbow-themed merchandise because of its connection with LGBTQI+ rights.
This isn’t the first time that Qatar’s police have been accused of arresting Qatar Airways employees in distressing circumstances. In 2019, a senior British executive at a subsidiary of Qatar Airways was found hanged in a Doha hotel room just ten weeks after being detained and allegedly tortured by Qatar’s secret police.
Marc Bennett was ‘snatched’ from the offices of Qatar Airways in Doha by secret police after a tip-off from the airline over allegations that he sent highly confidential business correspondence to a private email address, according to an investigation by The Times.
In the past, Qatar Airways has faced fierce criticism over employment rights, especially for cabin crew, who are subject to nightly curfews and monitoring at their company-provided accommodation.
Gilbert has gone on to find a new job with Jetstar Airways, but he says he still suffers from anxiety from what happened earlier this year.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.