Qatar: Arrested for Trespassing, or Revealing?

ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES- Good PR is hard to obtain for Qatar, and last week it became even more difficult when Qatari security officers arrested a BBC crew reporting on migrant workers. The Prime Minister’s office had invited several media outlets, including the BBC, on an official tour of the new accommodations for migrant workers.  The crew was arrested while attempting to obtain additional material outside of the tour.

The detained journalist, BBC Middle East correspondent Mark Lobel, said in a statement, “The working and housing conditions of migrant workers constructing new buildings in Qatar ahead of the World Cup have been heavily criticized and we wanted to see them for ourselves.” While the crew was heading to film Nepalese workers, eight white cars surrounded their vehicle and forced them to take a side road. Lobel and his crew were taken to the city’s police station for questioning.

During questioning, the crew learned that Qatari security officers had been monitoring them and they were taken to the local jail. They were released after two days with no charges held against them.  However, their materials were confiscated. The BBC has been critical of this, stating, “The Qatari authorities have made a series of conflicting allegations to justify the detention, all of which the team rejects. We are pressing the Qatari authorities for a full explanation and for the return of the confiscated equipment.” However, Qatar denies having done anything wrong. The Government Communications office reported that Lobel and his colleagues were detained for breaking Qatari laws such as trespassing on private property.

Detaining journalists is occurring more frequently in Qatar. Earlier in May, German journalist Florian Bauer and his crew from German broadcaster ARD were arrested while gathering information on migrant workers. Bauer and his colleagues were accused of not having permission to film and were detained for fourteen hours. Their equipment and data were confiscated and the crew was banned from leaving Qatar for five days.

FIFA, the world’s soccer governing body is now investigating the incidents. In a statement, FIFA said, “Any instance relating to an apparent restriction of press freedom is of concern to FIFA and will be looked into with the seriousness it deserves.” FIFA advocates media freedom but added that foreign journalists have to respect the laws of host countries.

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