Although Qatar is one of the most internet-active countries in the region, its regulatory body ictQatar, and state telecom entities oversee heavy censorship.
Pornography, gambling, dating apps, VoIP services, social media, and some political content is regularly filtered.
One way around this is to use a virtual private network (VPN) to hide and encrypt your online activity. But what are the legalities?
If you live in Qatar or are traveling to the country, here’s everything you need to know.
Is using a VPN legal in Qatar?
Fortunately, connecting to a VPN is completely legal in Qatar and there are no additional penalties when using one to circumvent internet censorship.
There are many legitimate reasons to use a VPN, such as for privacy and security. And even accessing blocked sites isn’t technically illegal for individuals.
What is the punishment for using VPN in Qatar?
There’s no direct punishment for using a VPN in Qatar. But, if you utilize one in the commission of certain cybercrimes, you can face fines and up to one-year imprisonment for the crime in question.
For example, publishing and sharing “fake news” or doxing information about the private or family life of an individual, is a crime. It’s also against the law to insult Islam or to otherwise offend the customs and beliefs of Qatar.
However, committing these crimes and trying to hide your activity with a VPN, won’t make the punishment harsher.
What does the VPN law in Qatar say?
There’s no law or regulation in Qatar that specifically identifies VPNs. But again, engaging in prohibited activities through one is illegal.
Clause 6 of Article 66 of the Telecommunications Law says anyone who uses “a telecommunication network” including the internet for “the purposes of disturbing, irritating or offending any persons” can be fined or imprisoned for up to one year.
Moreover, Clause 7 of the same Article states, “using any facility or telecommunications service in a manner that violates the rules of this Law or other laws” is punishable in the same manner.
Furthermore, Article 136 allows the imprisonment of anyone who creates or spreads “fake news” online.
There are also guidelines for ISPs that encourage them to filter VPN provider websites by classifying them as “privacy and circumvention tools”.
So, under the regulations above, most people are perfectly safe using VPNs and accessing most content from Qatar. However, political or social activists may consider using advanced VPN features like obfuscated servers, stealth protocols, or Onion over VPN.
What websites are banned in Qatar and can you get into trouble for accessing them?
Qatar bans sites, apps, and services involved in:
- Gay and lesbian content (including non-pornographic information)
- Dating apps and escort services
- And political content critical of the Gulf states
The same goes for the call functions in most popular messaging and VoIP apps. These include major ones like WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook Messenger. Only Ooredoo and Vodafone have the right to provide VoIP services in Qatar.
The use of VPNs falls under “privacy and circumvention tools”, so many sites that offer VPN services are blocked. However, it’s still not illegal to actually use one if you can access it.
Qatar has a dominant state-owned ISP called Ooredoo, which also handles a large portion of the telecom infrastructure. It can spy on other ISPs in the country and is responsible for filtering the entire country’s internet content.
Despite these filters, there’s no broad surveillance program for individuals and citizens who routinely access banned content via VPNs.
Even high-profile censorship, such as the banning of Pixar’s Lightyear movie for a lesbian scene, has little impact in the real world. Users can still sign up for Disney+ and stream it.
So, is using VPN legal in Qatar? For the most part yes, although it can be difficult to actually access VPN providers due to web censorship. If you obtain a VPN app, it’s not illegal to use and no cases exist of anyone being punished for doing so.
The Qatari state requires ISPs to block certain content, but the only time individuals are targeted is if they’re suspected of committing other online crimes.
If you’re mindful of what you post online and don’t draw attention to yourself, you’re unlikely to fall foul of the law for anything you access on the internet with a VPN.