A BBC journalist and his team were imprisoned briefly in Doha for reporting on migrant workers’ conditions, despite being invited by the Qatari Prime Minister’s office to showcase the country’s improving labour conditions.
In a report on the BBC’s website, Mark Lobel said that he and his crew were on their way to film a group of workers from Nepal, when security officers pulled them over and took them to the police station.
After several individual interrogations, Lobel, his cameraman, translator and driver were sent to the local prison, where they spent two nights. All their equipment was taken, and has yet not been returned.
During the interrogations, security officers also revealed that they had been following Lobel and his team from the time they landed in Doha.
The questioning was “hostile”, according to Lobel. “We were never accused of anything directly, instead they asked over and over what we had done and who we had met,” he wrote.
One of the interrogators also snapped: “This is not Disneyland…You can’t stick your camera anywhere.”
After being threatened with four days in prison, Lobel and his crew were suddenly released in two days and allowed to join the organised PR tour of the recently built accommodation for low-paid migrant labourers, featuring spacious and comfortable villas with swimming pools, gyms and welfare officers.
Qatar has responded, saying the crew were arrested for “trespassing on private property and running afoul of local laws.”
Qatar’s head of communications, Saif al-Thani, said: “We gave the reporters free rein to interview whomever they chose and to roam unaccompanied in the labour villages.
“Perhaps anticipating that the government would not provide this sort of access, the BBC crew decided to do their own site visits and interviews in the days leading up to the planned tour. In doing so, they trespassed on private property, which is against the law in Qatar just as it is in most countries. Security forces were called and the BBC crew was detained.”
He added: “The problems that the BBC reporter and his crew experienced could have been avoided if they had chosen to join the other journalists on the press tour. They would have been able to visit – in broad daylight – the very camps they tried to break into at night. Reporters from the Associated Press, AFP, the Guardian and Le Monde have filed stories on what they saw and heard in Qatar, and we invite interested readers to review their reports, which are available online.”
Qatar, the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, has been under constant scrutiny, especially from the media, for the mistreatment of migrant workers in the country.
However, it has taken a tough stance against journalists, and earlier this year, a German TV crew reporting on World Cup preparations was also arrested by authorities, who prevented the team from leaving for five days.
Qatar later said the broadcaster, WDR, did not have a permit to film in the country.
The BBC has said that FIFA is now investigating the incident.
“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,” it said.