The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has joined its affiliate in the UK and Ireland, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), to call on the authorities in Qatar to respect journalists’ legitimate right to report, following the arrest of a BBC crew in Doha last week.
The four-strong crew was invited by the Qatari government to tour the new accommodations for construction workers. But despite official permission, BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Mark Lobel, was arrested by the security services with his cameraman, a driver and translator, interrogated and jailed for two days before being released without charge. A Qatari spokesperson accused the crew of trespassing.
IFJ president Jim Boumelha said, “Qatar has been on the spotlight from journalists worldwide regarding its treatment of migrant workers building the 2022 world cup stadiums. As well as denying these workers basic rights, including the right to organise themselves in trade unions, Qatar authorities are now targeting foreign journalists for reporting their working conditions. There is plenty of good will to usher in reforms but this will continue to be hollow words if organisations like the Qatar National Human Rights Committee and Al Jazeera’s Public Liberties And Human Rights Department do not stand up to condemn these kinds of abuse.”
NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said, “It's an outrage that BBC journalists were imprisoned in Qatar for doing their job, it's a terrible indictment of the government's approach of press freedom. The seized equipment and belongings must be returned immediately. The arrests show a shocking level of hostility towards media workers, even in the face of their invitation as part of a PR trip. The journalists were put under surveillance and their detention serves as a warning for all media organisations planning to cover the World Cup. Assurances must be given by the authorities that they will in future respect press freedom and not let this happen again.”
Last March, a German television journalist Florian Bauer and his crew from ARD, a German broadcaster, were arrested by Qatari police, taken to a station, and interrogated for the next 14 hours, following their filming of the industrial area that houses the millions of South Asian guest workers building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup. Their equipment was kept for weeks and, when returned, all information - work-related and private data - had been deleted. They were accused of shooting without permit, although they made every effort to obtain permission before leaving.
The IFJ welcomes the announcement made recently by the Qatari authorities to reform the Kafala system that forces foreign workers to be tied to a sponsor who controls their lives, a system likened to modern slavery, and to improve their living conditions.
However it believes that the good will of those pushing for reforms is now under intense scrutiny, and the pace for change must be quickened to include not only the dismantling of the Kafala system but also the immediate introduction of trade union rights.
“Qatari authorities must understand that as a host of a world sporting event they must open themselves to scrutiny and not respond by arresting and harassing journalists. As a member of the International Olympic Committee FIFA should operate under the Olympic Charter, which should in turn guarantee press freedom to journalists covering FIFA events,” added Boumelha.
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