Two Swiss journalists barred from leaving Qatar for 13 days

New York, April 19, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the detention and questioning of two sports journalists working in Qatar for the public Swiss broadcaster Radio Television Suisse (RTS). Both journalists were prevented from leaving the country for 13 days.

On April 3, reporter Christophe Cerf and cameraman Yvan Thorimbert were filming a report on football in Qatar, the host country for the 2022 soccer World Cup, in Mesaieed, 31 miles (50 kilometers) south of the capital Doha, when a police patrol stopped them, news reports said. The journalists were handcuffed and taken to a local police station, where they were interrogated for several hours, according to the same news accounts. They were later transferred to a police station in the neighboring town of al-Wakra for further interrogations.

Later the same day, they appeared in a Doha court, where “they had to pay a fine, without receiving a report on their case or a receipt for the fine,” RTS said in a statement. Thorimbert’s camera was confiscated, and he and his colleague were released but ordered not to leave the country, RTS’s statement said.

Returning to Mesaieed, they “confirmed that there was no indication or sign that filming was forbidden,” RTS said. “Moreover, before leaving for their assignment, the Qatar mission in Geneva had told them that they could film freely,” the station added. Cerf and Thorimbert left Qatar on Friday, and their equipment was returned after the Swiss ambassador in Kuwait intervened on their behalf. (Switzerland does not have diplomatic representation in Qatar.)

“Qatar must explain why the country that is to host the World Cup is detaining foreign journalists,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, “and why the two men were compelled to stay in the country for nearly two weeks when they were never charged with a crime.”