Two journalists from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation were arrested for trespassing while on a reporting trip in Qatar.
Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) journalists Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani have been released by Qatari police after they were arrested in the early hours of Monday morning.
Ekeland and Ghorbani were on a reporting trip to Qatar to cover the one year countdown to next year’s World Cup as well as the issue of migrant workers’ welfare in the Gulf state. The journalists were scheduled to leave Doha on Sunday night and return to Norway on Monday morning, Norwegian time but failed to make their flight, prompting concern from their employers.
According to NRK, the Norwegian embassy in Abu Dhabi was in contact with Qatari authorities about the case, and have said no charges have been made against the journalists.
“We can confirm that the two citizens work for NRK and that they were arrested while performing their duties as journalists,” said the Norweigan Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt in a statement to NRK.
However, Qatar’s Government Communications Office (GCO) has disputed this narrative, saying that the journalists were detained following a complaint made by a private property owner to police about two men who had tress-passed onto his real estate.
“An NRK crew were taken into custody in the early hours of 22 November for trespassing on private property and filming without a permit. The authorities arrested the crew in their hotel after responding to a complaint made by the owner of the private property on which the crew had illegally accessed. The crew were released without charge early on 23 November after completing the necessary legal procedures,” said the GCO statement,
The GCO also confirmed that the Norwegian embassy and NRK executives were updated on the situation as and when it progressed.
Both Ekeland and Ghorbani had reported extensively on Qatar and have been on several trips abroad for NRK in recent years.
According to NRK, Ekeland and Ghorbani had reportedly been transparent with Qatari authorities about the purpose of their trip, which was to bring the conditions of workers in the Gulf state to light. The two spoke to public representatives and a number of workers about their conditions for their work.
“We take the fact that two of our employees have been arrested and questioned in connection with their journalistic work very seriously. Freedom of the press is fundamental for NRK and all independent media. We have not received any explanation from the authorities in Qatar, but it is difficult to interpret this as anything other than an attack on free journalism. It is unbearable that the media is prevented from practicing free and independent journalism in connection with the world’s largest sporting event,” said Eriksen.
However, the GCO has insisted that the pair’s detention was not connected to press freedom, but in fact was a direct result of their breach of law. Officials have pointed to the fact that the NRK crew were given, what’s been described as unfettered access, including to the Minister of Labour, the UN’s International Labour Organisation and an interview with senior World Cup official Hassan Al-Thawadi.
“As in almost every country, trespassing is against Qatari law, which the crew members were fully aware of before entering the property. The crew were given access to film wherever they wanted in Qatar. They were provided with all the filming permits they had requested prior to their arrival and were offered meetings with senior government and third-party officials,” said the GCO.
‘willfully violated the law’
The office also confirmed that the crew was aware it was in violation of the law and willfully did so, given that the crew was specifically briefed on the laws of the Gulf state.
“As a result of these violations, the crew were temporarily detained. Qatar’s track record on 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 Qatar’s laws have been respected,” stressed the GCO.
In a press conference held by NRK and Norwegian authorities on Wednesday, the Scandinavian journalists recalled their time in detainment in Doha, saying they never felt fear at any point during the procedure, nor were they met with force or threats by Qatari police.
They did however dispute the GCO’s statement and claimed that they have not received details explaining Qatar’s ‘motives’ for the arrests. Ekeland and Ghorbani confirmed during the presser that they were aware they were on private property, NKR also admitted the journalists went “where they maybe should not have”.
Norwegian boycott efforts
In June, Norway’s parliament voted against boycotting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar despite running several campaigns in recent months against the host nation.
“The Federal Parliament decides that the NFF will not adopt a boycott,” the NFF confirmed to the press at the time.
This was announced after an extraordinary congress called by NFF in which 368 delegates voted against the boycott while just 121 were in favour. Its eight-member executive committee and representatives of 18 districts, as well as hundreds of professional and amateur clubs were in attendance.
The NFF was searching for an expert committee to support the move, however committees stood against a formal boycott.
The movement calling for a boycott first started when Norwegian club Tromso IL spoke out against alleged human rights abuses of migrant workers in Qatar last February.
“We can no longer sit and watch people die in the name of football,” the first division club said.
‘Human rights – on or off the pitch’ were the words written on the bibs of the Norwegian football team as they warmed up for the first game of the European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in March.
This triggered several campaigns amongst European clubs such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden against the 2022 World Cup in the Gulf state.