NRK journalists Halvor Ekeland (right) and Lokman Ghorbani (left) are welcomed by head of NRK sports Egil Sundvor in Gardermoen on November 24 after returning from Qatar. (CNN)A Norwegian broadcaster said two of its journalists were arrested by Qatari officials after reporting on the treatment of workers ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani, journalists for the Norwegian Broadcasting Co. (NRK), were arrested by police in Qatar late Sunday night, according to a statement sent to CNN from NRK.
According to both journalists’ accounts, they were questioned for eight hours in separate rooms, one at a time, they were not ill-treated but they were put in a cell with 10-12 others and were made to sign a document in Arabic they could not understand.
They were released without charge early Tuesday morning and flew back to Norway early Wednesday morning.
NRK told CNN that Ekeland and Ghorbani were in Qatar to cover the one-year mark before the FIFA World Cup 2022, and their coverage "included interviews and questions about workers’ conditions in the country."
According to a statement from the Government Communications Office of the State of Qatar, Ekeland and Ghorbani were taken into custody 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 statement said. "The crew were released without charge early on 23 November after completing the necessary legal procedures.
"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. These freedoms, however, do not override the application of common law, which the crew knowingly and willfully violated. 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."
NRK’s director general Thor Gjermund Eriksen said he disagreed with the Qatari description of events.
"NRK’s employees behaved totally in line with the principles and ethics of Journalism. We disagree with the description of the journalists’ activity made in the statement published by the Qatari Government Communications Office on November 24th," he said in a statement sent to CNN.
"Even if the Qatari authorities believe the journalists broke any rules, the treatment they were given is not acceptable. The detention of the journalists and the confiscation of all their equipment are in any case completely out of proportion. It threatens free and independent journalism and creates a serious chilling effect for all journalists visiting Qatar."
Eriksen went on to call the situation "very serious," in particular when "two […]