FIFA to investigate detainment of BBC journalist, crew reporting in Qatar

Monday May 18th, 2015

FIFA will investigate an incident during which a BBC reporter and his crew were detained and held in prison for two days while reporting on migrant workers completing construction for the 2022 World Cup, FIFA said in a statement, according to the New York Times

BBC journalist Mark Lobel and his crew were arrested in Qatar last month during a trip in which they intended to film Nepalese migrant workers.

"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,” FIFA said, noting also that the media needed to respect the general rules of host countries.

The Qatari government had invited the BBC to the country in May to view improvements to accommodations for migrant workers, but the crew was arrested while "gathering additional material" for its report, according to Lobel's account of the incident. 

In a statement, the Qatar government said the BBC crew was detained because they had "trespassed on private property."

"The Government Communications Office invited a dozen reporters to see - first-hand - some sub-standard labour accommodation as well as some of the newer labour villages. 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."

The Gulf nation's migrant worker practices have come under increased scrutiny as the country prepares for the 2022 World Cup, as workers are subject to poor housing and working accommodations. The Guardian reported in December that one Nepalese migrant worker in Qatar was dying every two days, and that among migrant workers of all nationalities the rate was estimated to be one fatality per day. 

Lobel said that the group was driving in Doha when eight cars surrounded their vehicle and directed them to the side of the road. Security officers proceeded to confiscate the BBC's equipment and take the crew into custody. 

Lobel and his cameraman, translator and driver were all subject to "hostile" questioning by Qatar intelligence officers. One officer told Lobel that their detention was "a matter of national security," Lobel said. 

Qatar officers also showed Lobel evidence that they had been trailing him since he arrived in the country. 

The BBC team was later questioned again at the department of public prosecutions and threatened with additional prison time before being released to continue on its press trip. 

Earlier this month, German journalists filming a documentary about the 2022 World Cup were also detained and questioned. 

The BBC released a statement defending its crew: 

"We are pleased that the BBC team has been released but we deplore the fact that they were detained in the first place. Their presence in Qatar was no secret and they were engaged in a perfectly proper piece of journalism.

The Qatari authorities have made a series of conflicting allegations to justify the detention, all of which the team rejects. We are pressing the Qatari authorities for a full explanation and for the return of the confiscated equipment."

- Stanley Kay

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