Authorities in Qatar said Wednesday that security personnel arrested two journalists from Norwegian state television for more than 30 hours and destroyed footage they recorded at a migrant labour camp as they attempted to report on worker difficulties ahead of the FIFA 2022 World Cup.
As NRK journalists Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani returned to Norway on Wednesday following their arrest, Qatar’s government accused them of “trespassing on private property and filming without an authorization.” The journalists said they had received verbal consent from the people they were filming.
Norway and Qatar have had a diplomatic spat over the arrests. The Qatari ambassador to Norway was summoned to Oslo’s foreign ministry, according to the Norwegian news outlet NTB.
The arrests were deemed “reprehensible” by Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere.
“In a functioning democracy, a free press is important,” Gahr Stoere commented on Twitter. “This further emphasises the significance of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize” (to journalists). I’m overjoyed that Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani have been freed.”
The arrests, which come a year before the World Cup, demonstrate the dictatorial leadership of Qatar’s persistent sensitivity. Qatar is a small, energy-rich republic on the Arabian Peninsula. Other journalists have suffered similar difficulties and detentions while covering the World Cup in Qatar.
Ekeland, a sports journalist, and Ghorbani, a photographer, were in Qatar as the country approached the World Cup’s one-year mark.
“They have all the approvals they needed to conduct interviews,” NRK CEO Thor Gjermund Eriksen said at a press conference at the company’s Oslo headquarters.
They “didn’t have a written licence” to film on private property, according to Ekeland, but those present approved. Later, security forces dressed in civilian clothes arrived at their hotel and requested them to report to a police station, he claimed.
“We were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to film,” they said. “However, the World Cup organisation encouraged us to film there, and there were a number of other media companies there as well,” Ekeland explained.
The security forces adopted a “harsh tone” and “tried to scare us,” but “there were never any threats or violence,” he stated.
“We believe we were well handled,” Ekeland stated.
The journalists told NRK that they were not permitted to take their equipment out of Qatar. The arrest of the journalists was condemned by both the Norwegian Union of Journalists and the country’s football federation.
“They were arrested while fulfilling their jobs as journalists,” Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stated in a statement to NRK.
“Freedom of expression is essential to the running of a democracy, as well as to the fulfilment of other human rights,” she stated.
The two were arrested after the Qatari government received a complaint from an unidentified private property owner in the country’s Industrial Area, which is home to labour camps, according to a statement. Ekeland had requested for a film permission, but it had not been approved before he arrived at the location, according to the report.
Qatar, like other Gulf Arab states where freedom of expression is tightly regulated, requires journalists to obtain permission to operate and film.
“Trespassing is against Qatari law, as it is in practically every country,” the ministry said. “The team members were well aware of this before entering the property.” “The footage they obtained while trespassing was destroyed by the authorities in compliance with Qatari legislation,” the statement said.
When asked about the Qatar government’s comments about the journalists, NRK said it disagreed and that its journalists were acting “in accordance with the norms and ethics of journalism” in a statement to The Associated Press.
“Even if the Qatari authorities feel the journalists infringed any rules, the treatment they received is intolerable,” according to NRK. “In any event, the incarceration of the journalists and the seizure of all of their equipment are utterly out of proportion.” It puts free and independent journalism in jeopardy, and it has a chilling effect on all journalists who visit Qatar.”
The forward headquarters of the US military’s Central Command is located in Qatar, which extends out like a thumb into the Persian Gulf. Since securing the privilege to host the 2018 event, it has come under heightened scrutiny for its handling of migrant workers.
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