Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani, journalists with the Norwegian Broadcasting Co. (NRK), were arrested by police in Qatar on Sunday evening, according to a statement sent to CNN by NRK.
According to the accounts of the two journalists, they were interrogated for eight hours in separate rooms, one at a time, they were not mistreated but they were put in a cell with 10 to 12 others and were forced to sign. an Arabic document that they couldn’t understand.
They were released without charge early Tuesday morning and returned to Norway early Wednesday morning.
NRK told CNN that Ekeland and Ghorbani were in Qatar to cover the year leading up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and their coverage “included interviews and questions about the conditions of workers in the country.”
“Authorities arrested the crew at their hotel after responding to a complaint filed by the owner of private property to which the crew had illegally accessed,” the statement said. “The crew was released without charge early on November 23 after completing the necessary legal proceedings.
“As in almost all countries, the trespassing is against Qatari law, which the team members were fully aware of before entering the property. The team got access to the film wherever they wanted in Qatar. They received all the filming permits they requested. prior to their arrival and were offered interviews with senior government officials and third parties. These freedoms, however, do not prevail over the application of common law, which the crew knowingly and willfully violated. Due to these violations, the crew was temporarily detained.
“Qatar’s record of media freedom speaks for itself. Qatar welcomes hundreds of international journalists and NGOs every year to report freely in the country. No journalist has ever been detained when Qatari laws were respected. “
NRK chief executive Thor Gjermund Eriksen said he disagreed with Qatari’s description of events.
“NRK employees behaved in full accordance with the principles and ethics of journalism. We do not agree with the description of the journalists’ activity made in the statement released by the Qatari government’s Communications Office on November 24, ”he said in a statement sent to CNN.
“Even if the Qatari authorities believe that the journalists have broken any rule, the treatment they received is not acceptable. The detention of journalists and the confiscation of all their material is in any case totally disproportionate. This threatens free and independent journalism and creates a serious deterrent effect for all journalists visiting Qatar. “
Eriksen then described the situation as “very serious”, in particular when “two of our employees were arrested and questioned in the course of their work as journalists”.
In a statement sent to CNN, FIFA said it “stands up for the principles of free media”.
“We have been in regular contact with the local organizers (Supreme Committee for Delivery and Inheritance) and NRK to establish the circumstances of the detention of an NRK crew in Doha in recent days,” a spokesperson said. FIFA to CNN in a statement.
“We take note of the statement by the Government of Qatar’s Communications Office that the crew ‘knowingly and willfully’ violated the law by entering private property before being released without charge. FIFA will keep in touch with NRK and SC, who worked with and assisted the crew during their stay in Doha. ”
This follows last week’s International Labor Organization (ILO) report which said at least 50 of Qatar’s workers died in 2020, saying the country was inadequately investigating these workplace fatalities. Non-governmental organizations have alleged that migrant workers involved in World Cup infrastructure projects have been mistreated and mistreated.
Qatar’s Ministry of Labor said in a statement that “the figures reported in the media on the deaths of migrant workers have been extremely misleading.”
“The government has been transparent about the health of our foreign population, and in reality, mortality levels in Qatar are comparable to those of the wider demographics around the world. Nonetheless, improving the health and well-being of foreign workers remains a top priority, ”the ministry added.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino told CNN that if there was still work to be done, he had seen “a big change” in the Gulf country.
“I have seen the great development that has taken place in Qatar, which has been recognized – I don’t mean by FIFA – but by unions around the world, by international organizations,” Infantino told Amanda Davies from CNN Sport.
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“Of course more needs to be done – obviously it’s a process. I think we can say that without the World Cup and… the spotlight coming from the World Cup, the whole process would have taken a lot longer.
“Steps have been taken, steps will be taken. I think we must also recognize the positives if we want to encourage those who have taken a path like Qatar is to continue down this path, recognize what has been done, look at the concrete facts and figures also make the necessary critiques , but always try to be constructive and see what has been done and what more can be done in a positive way. ”
The 2022 edition, which is set to be the first ever World Cup staged in winter, is set to start in Qatar on November 21 and end on December 18.
Becky Thompson contributed to this report.