Qatar: Two Norwegian journalists temporarily detained over their report about working conditions at world cup constructions sites

Two Norwegian journalists working for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) were arrested by Qatari authorities for 36 hours. They had been investigating the poor working conditions of migrant workers in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) and their Norwegian affiliate, the Norwegian Union of Journalists (NJ), strongly condemn this detention and call on the Qatari authorities to provide full explanation for the arrests and respect the independence of journalists.

Credits: Screenshot from the press briefing at NRK

On Sunday, 21 November, journalist Halvor Ekeland and photographer Lokman Ghorbani were detained outside their hotel in Doha before their flight back to Norway. They were released from custody over 30 hours later on Tuesday 23 November in the morning and departed Doha the same day, safely arriving in Oslo on 24 November. Their equipment was confiscated.

Ekeland and Ghorbani were in Qatar to cover the one-year mark before the beginning of the FIFA World Cup 2022. Shortly before their arrest, they had reported on the work and living conditions of migrant workers during a live broadcast on the NRK news program Sportsrevyen. Ekeland had told viewers there were “stark contrasts”, with some workers “doing awfully” or having "fear in their eyes".

Media and human rights organisations have previously reported on the systemic exploitation and high numbers of deaths among migrant workers while building soccer venues in searing heat since 2010. Investigations into the brutal working conditions caused international outrage, leading Qatar to announce sweeping labour reforms in 2019. However, many workers say that the conditions have not really changed.

Ekeland told Norwegian media VG: "We have been questioned, but are first and foremost happy to be back in Europe. We've had a hard time. We will have a number of meetings with NRK and find out a number of things, and come back with comments eventually."

The NJ welcomed the comments by Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre who strongly condemned the arrests, calling them “unacceptable”. Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has called in the ambassador of Qatar, demanding an explanation.

NJ President Dag Idar Tryggestad denounced the detention: "This is an unjustified attack on press freedom. The authorities of Qatar are trying to prevent journalists from presenting a broad picture of what is happening in the country."

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: "Thousands of workers have been exploited as slaves at construction sites of stadiums in Qatar for the 2022 World cup and the public has the right to know the truth. Independent reporting is key to transparency about such a global event and we ask the Qatari government to come up with a full explanation on what appears to be a clear attempt to intimidate our NRK colleagues."

EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez reacted: "Journalists must continue to investigate human rights violations. We call on journalists to protect their sources and to take appropriate safety measures when operating in authoritarian countries."

Qatar defended the arrests, stating that the reporters were detained following complaints of trespassing by the owner of a private property.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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