Norwegian Journalists Reporting On World Cup Workers Arrested In Qatar

Two Norwegian Journalists, Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani, were held in custody for 32 hours and arrested after reporting on the 2021 Fifa World Cup. They were released on 23 November and arrived in Norway the following day. The Government Communications Office of the State of Qatar said the pair trespassed “on private property and [filmed] without a permit.” However, Thor Gjermund Eriksen, the director-general of Norwegian Broadcasting Co., condemned the temporary detainment of the journalists stating, “It threatens free and independent journalism and creates a serious chilling effect for all journalists visiting Qatar.”

Qatar’s government communications office claimed the journalists were given access to filming but these freedoms should not override the Qatari law. This detainment stretched to diplomatic issues, when Norwegian Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Stoere, asserted “a free press is crucial to a functioning democracy.” Anniken Huitkeldt agreed with Stoere, emphasising the violation of the freedom of expression threatens the fulfillment of human rights. 

Ekeland, the Sports journalist, and Ghorbani, the cameraman, both covered information on migrant working conditions at the Fifa Cup. They were not the first journalists arrested for reporting on migrant workers. In 2015, the BBC’s Middle East business correspondent Mark Lobel was labelled a trespasser when he conducted a report on Qatar labourers’ conditions. Despite his team “engaged in a perfectly proper piece of journalism,” an explanation was required and their equipment confiscated. Damian Collins, the Member of Parliament stated “[it’s] not acceptable for people to turn a blind eye. FIFA has blood on its hands, as do these sponsors, for as long as they turn a blind eye to what’s going on there.”

In a Sportsrevyen news broadcast, Ekeland said his encounter with the workers struck him the most. “When I asked them for an interview, you see the fear in their eyes.” The pair were also due to interview Abdullah Ibhais, a former worker at the Fifa World Cup who criticised the migrant working conditions in Qatar. But Ibhais was arrested before the interview with charges of bribery and corruption.

50 of Qatar’s workers died in 2020, according to a report from the International Labour Organisation. There has been criticism around the inadequate investigation of workplace deaths, yet Qatar’s Ministry of Labor responded to the claim and said the statistics of migrant fatalities were “wildly misleading.” An article written by Håvard Melnæs published at Josimar, a sports magazine, illustrates the trial of Abdullah Ibhais and his conviction in favor of protecting Qatar’s reputation.

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Melody Chan

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May 2022
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