Two Norwegian journalists investigating conditions for migrant workers in Qatar ahead of the 2022 Fifa World Cup were arrested and detained for 36 hours as they tried to leave the country, Norwegian media have reported.
The VG newspaper reported that Halvor Ekeland, a sports journalist for the public broadcaster NRK, and Lokman Ghorbani, an NRK cameraman, were picked up by police late on Sunday as they were preparing to leave for Doha airport.
Hours earlier, during a live broadcast for the Sportsrevyen news show on conditions for labourers working on World Cup venues, Ekeland had told viewers there were “stark contrasts”, with some workers “doing awfully”.
Asked during the broadcast what had struck him most strongly, he said: “The encounters we had with workers, those who did not wish to speak with journalists on camera. When I asked them for an interview, you see the fear in their eyes.”
The journalists said they were arrested outside the hotel and taken to a police station, where they remained until they were released on Tuesday morning. There was no explanation for their detention and they are now back in Oslo.
“We were questioned, but first and foremost we are happy to be back in Europe,” Ekeland told the newspaper. “We’ve had a hard time. We will have a number of meetings with NRK and find out a number of things, then comment more.”
The public broadcaster’s managing director, Thor Gjermund Eriksen, said NRK had not been informed of the reasons for the detention, which he considered an attack on freedom of the press and free speech. “It is unacceptable for the media to be prevented from practising free and independent journalism at one of the world’s largest sport events,” Eriksen said in a statement. “We will be discussing how this should be handled with Fifa.”
Ekeland and Ghorbani had been in Qatar since 14 November and were due to meet Abdullah Ibhais, the former communications director for the 2022 World Cup organisers, who has since publicly criticised the Qatari regime. However, Ibhais, who is appealing against a five-year prison sentence for corruption, was arrested hours before the planned interview.
The Norwegian football magazine Josimar last month published an extensive article on Ibhais’s trial, arguing that he had been convicted largely to protect the reputation of the Qatari regime after criticising the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar.
The magazine later received a letter from a law firm representing the organising committee alleging the article was “defamatory and in violation of several laws”, and demanding the removal of WhatsApp messages and voicemail from the piece.