Two journalists from Norwegian state television were arrested and held for over 30 hours by security forces in Qatar without explanation
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Security forces in Qatar detained two journalists from Norwegian state television for over 30 hours and deleted footage they gathered at a migrant labor camp as they tried to report on worker issues ahead of the FIFA 2022 World Cup, authorities said Wednesday.
Qatar’s government later accused NRK journalists Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani of “trespassing on private property and filming without a permit” as the two returned early Wednesday to Norway following their arrest. Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre responded by saying their arrest was “unacceptable.”
“A free press is crucial in a functioning democracy,” Støre wrote on Twitter. “This also shows the importance of this year’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize (to journalists). I am very happy that Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani have now been released.”
The arrests, a year ahead of the World Cup, show the ongoing sensitivity felt by the autocratic government of Qatar, a small, energy-rich nation on the Arabian Peninsula. Other journalists have faced similar problems and detentions while reporting in Qatar as well ahead of the World Cup.
Ekeland, a sports journalist, and Ghorbani, a photographer, had been in Qatar as the country marked one year to go before the World Cup. The two were reportedly detained after reporting on the condition of migrant laborers during a live report.
The journalists told NRK that they were not allowed to leave with their equipment. The Norwegian Union of Journalists and the country’s football federation both criticized the journalists’ arrest.
“First and foremost, we are very happy and relieved that both are safe and on their way home,” Thor Gjermund Eriksen, the head of the Norwegian broadcaster, said on NRK’s website.
In a statement to NRK, Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said “they were arrested while performing their duties as journalists.”
Qatar’s government said in a statement that the two had been arrested after receiving a complaint from an unidentified private property owner in the country’s Industrial Area, which is home to labor camps. It said that Ekeland had applied for a film permit, but authorities hadn’t granted it before he went to the site.
Qatar, like other Gulf Arab states where speech is strictly governed, require journalists to have permissions to operate and to film.
“As in almost every country, trespassing is against Qatari law, which the crew members were fully aware of before entering the property,” the government said. It acknowledged that “the footage they captured while trespassing was deleted by the authorities in accordance with Qatari law.”
Asked about the Qatar government’s comments about the journalists, NRK declined to immediately comment, saying “our main concern now is their wellbeing.”
Qatar, which sticks out like a thumb into the Persian Gulf, is home to the forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command. It has faced increased scrutiny over the treatment of migrant labor in the country since winning the right to host the upcoming tournament.
Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.