Paola Schietekat longs to return to the Middle East, where she loved working — until a dream job in Qatar was followed by a nightmarish ordeal that made her flee the country.
“I couldn’t believe what had happened to me,” Schietekat told Noticias Telemundo, recounting the ordeal that has made international headlines.
Schietekat, who loves soccer, was working in Qatar for the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, an entity created by the country ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will take place there in November.
In June, Schietekat, who’s an economist, said she was assaulted in a violent incident by an acquaintance and fellow Latino who also worked in Qatar.
“I was asleep, and when I hear a noise in the kitchen, I go to check. … He lunged at me, and we struggled a bit until he started hitting me really hard. I remember I ended up with bruises on my ribs, back, shoulder and the entire left side of my body. I was motionless for about 10 minutes,” she said.
Before leaving her, she said he yelled, “And don’t even think about telling anyone that I hit you.”
Schietekat went with a representative of the Mexican Consulate to report the incident to Qatari authorities, but instead, she said, it was turned into an investigation about her, with authorities at one point asking for a virginity test. “It was a very strong humiliation,” she said.
“My assailant lied, saying that we had a relationship, and, although I had the forensic evidence of the beatings and everything, they believed him and applied the crime of fornication to us in an extramarital relationship, for which we could be in jail for up to seven years,” she said. “But since I am Muslim, they can also give me 100 lashes. It’s crazy.”
Schietekat managed to leave Qatar with the help of Human Rights Watch and the World Cup body where she worked. The man she accused of attacking her has also left the country.
But in Mexico she has no peace, knowing that the trial continues.
“The worst thing would be to be convicted and not be able to return to the Middle East — that would end my professional future because I want to return and continue working in those countries. The truth is, I don’t want to think about that,” she said.
Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Noticias Telemundo that Schietekat’s case brings together a “series of irregularities because she was interrogated in Arabic, without adequate translators. They also put her face to face with the aggressor, and they believed him so they filed charges.”
“They did not even do a formal investigation to corroborate the facts, and she is a foreign woman residing in the country that is organizing the World Cup this year,” Begum said. “It is very worrying.”
A Muslim who has lived in the region since she was 19, Schietekat said being a woman there is a constant challenge, but nothing had prepared her for what she experienced last year, including her country’s initial response.
Schietekat said that, according to her experience, the Mexican Consulate didn’t advise her or seek legal advice to warn her that her complaint could be used against her. She said she wasn’t offered translation services until hours after intense interrogations, and at that time, they only put her in contact with a translator by telephone.
“There is no protocol for the protection of victims of violence with a gender perspective in the Mexican Foreign Service,” she said.