Qatar detains international journalists for the second time this year

New York, May 18, 2015–For the second time in two months, an international news crew was arrested and interrogated by Qatari security officials while they were reporting on the human rights situation in Qatar in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detention and calls on the Qatari government to allow local and international journalists to report freely in the country.

In an article published today, BBC correspondent Mark Lobel said that he and three BBC crew members were arrested and held for two days in early May while reporting on the conditions faced by migrant workers in the country. The names and nationalities of the crew members were not publicly reported. Lobel told CPJ they were arrested on May 2 and that he was allowed to leave Qatar after a travel ban was lifted on May 10.

The BBC crew, along with several other international outlets, had been invited to participate in a trip sponsored by Qatar to witness the progress the government said it has made in improving labor conditions for migrant workers. A statement released by the Qatari government claimed the tour would offer unfettered access to the journalists. Qatar has come under intense scrutiny by human rights organizations and news outlets over the treatment of migrant workers, especially those working on projects like the World Cup, which garner high international attention.

“The Qatari government can try to micro-manage its reputation with carefully scripted public relations trips, but it must come to accept that a journalist’s job is not to act as a private PR agent,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “The best way for Qatar to improve its reputation is to let both local and international journalists freely cover the country and to take their independent findings seriously.”

According to Lobel’s article, the crew was arrested while heading to film an interview with Nepalese workers ahead of the official press tour. Officials interrogated the crew and seized their equipment. The government later accused them of trespassing on private property. They were released on May 4, but forbidden from leaving the country and their equipment was not returned.

This was the second time in two months that an international news crew was arrested in Qatar. In late March, a news crew working for German public broadcasters WDR and ARD was arrested and held for 14 hours, according to news reports. The crew had been filming a documentary on corruption and the World Cup. Correspondent Florian Bauer wrote that the crew had been filming migrant workers playing soccer when they were detained by two state security officials. Their equipment and data were confiscated. The journalists were allowed to leave the country five days later, when the Qatari foreign ministry intervened to lift a travel ban.

According to Bauer’s article, the crew had repeatedly tried to apply for permission to report from Qatar: requesting interviews with multiple officials, informing the Qatari embassy in Berlin, and applying to at least five separate offices for permission. They never received a response. The names of the other crew members were not reported, but Bauer told The Associated Press the crew was made up of three Germans and an Indian.

The arrest of the WDR/ARD crew was first publicized on May 4, the day the station aired the documentary “Football for Sale,” which the crew had been filming in Qatar. Authorities returned the WDR crew’s equipment to them nearly a month after the arrest. All of the data had been erased.

For more data and analysis, visit CPJ’s Attacks on the Press.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been updated to reflect the correct name of the German broadcaster ARD.