Qatar: IFJ warns journalists over restrictions and surveillance risks ahead of the World Cup

A DanishTV2 team was prevented from filming in a public space in Doha, Qatar’s capital, on 15 November. Security officials tried to cover the camera and interrupted the live broadcast, in what constitutes one of the first infringements on media freedom against international journalists accredited to report on the upcoming World Cup. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has published a 7-point safety advisory for journalists and media workers covering the World Cup.

Workers clean seats at the Al-Bayt Stadium in al-Khor on November 12, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The FIFA World Cup will take place in Qatar from 20 November to 18 December 2022. While the IFJ has already warned FIFA and the Qatari authorities against chilling restrictions on journalists, sexism in sports and discrimination, the Federation has also listed a series of press freedom violations in the past years.

In November 2021, the Qatari authoritiesarrestedtwo Norwegian journalists, working for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), who were investigating the poor working conditions of migrant workers in preparation for the World Cup. 

In 2020, well known Qatari writer Faisael Al Marzouqi was sentenced to a 3 month suspended jail term, fined 30 000 Qatari rials and his twitter account was 'confiscated' for a tweet criticising the management of the Qatari stock market. 

Between 2016 and 2020, Doha news, the country’s leading English-speaking independent news website at the time, was suspended for allegedly upsetting the government with their reporting.

Articles published by The New York Times are regularly subject to censorship when addressing certain issues, such as coverage of the LGBTQI community, among others. 

The IFJ also deplores that journalists working in Qatar do not have the right to organise in a union. 

Ahead of the World Cup the federation has published advice to support journalists' and media workers’ reporting on the ground.

1. Restrictions on topics and places: While Qatari authorities claim reports on strict conditions placed on media are “inaccurate” and thatthousands of journalists report freely and without interference each year" journalists accredited to cover the World Cup may be subject to restrictions on reporting on certain topics, such as the situation of migrant workers or theLGBTQIcommunity in the country.In addition, they will be prevented from filming at governmental buildings, universities, private properties and places of worship, according to the rules published by the Qatari government, to which journalists abide when accredited. Reporters should also expect to come under surveillance and monitoring of their moves. This may entail denial of access to certain places, threats to withdraw their accreditation, and arrests if not abiding by the law. 

2. Secure contacts and equipment: Media professionals should source crucial contacts in the country ( embassies, consulates) and work out secure means of communications in case they get into trouble. It would be advisable to have reliable equipment and seek to send and/or store sensitive material (footage, images, etc..) in a backup system, preferably sending it to headquarters before publication or broadcast from Qatar.

3. Expect you are being subjected to surveillance: All foreigners visiting Qatar are required to download two mobile applications: the official World Cup app Hayya and Covid-tracking app Ehteraz, operated by the Ministry of Public Health with the aim of "monitoring covid spread". Reporters should be aware that these are very intrusive apps that give the Qatari authorities wide access to people’s data while in the country. These apps have been labelled by privacy experts as a form of spyware because they grant access to read, delete or change content, make direct calls as well as to connect to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. 

4. Familiarise yourself with Qatari media law:Qatar amended its penal code in 2020 to introduce a new article under the ‘Crimes against Internal State Security’ section, which imposes up to five years in prison and fines up to 100.000 Qatari rials (around €26.000) for spreading ‘’fake news” or rumours with ill-intent. The legislation does not define what is  rumour or fake news, which gives unacceptable room for interpretation.

5. When dealing with law enforcement agents: Media workers should not be compelled to show, hand over or delete their material. This should be communicated always in a non confrontational manner, asking for access to their consulate/embassy if things escalate. Sometimes, the fear of exposure to the outside world can help diffuse tensions.

6. Be aware of conduct: While the IFJ opposes all unjust restrictions imposed by governments in any country regarding personal freedoms, reporters should be mindful of Qatar’s strict morality laws, according to which the display of affection between non-married or same-sex people is not tolerated. In fact, this may serve as an excuse to arrest/deport journalists under the cloak of inappropriate behaviour. 

7. Watch out for situations of violence: Incidents of violence can erupt during matches at the stadium or around them between supporters of rival teams. Journalists should always be mindful of this risk and monitor the mood in sizeable crowds. They should carefully choose safe areas from which to report these incidents and leave safely or seek protection from the authorities if the situation becomes too dangerous.

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

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries

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