Journalists' detention kicks up Qatar- Norway diplomatic row
- Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani of Norway's state television NRK returned home on November 24
- They were detained for coverage of worker issues ahead of the FIFA 2022 World Cup
- Norway summoned the Qatari ambassador even as Doha said the journalists were trespassing
The detention of two Norwegian journalists in Qatar sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries. Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani of Norway's state television NRK returned home on November 24 after being held for over 30 hours for their coverage of worker issues ahead of the FIFA 2022 World Cup. Qatar's government accused NRK journalists of “trespassing on private property and filming without a permit,” a claim denied by the journalists who contend they had verbal permission from those they filmed at a migrant labor camp.
Norwegian news agency NTB reported that the Qatari ambassador to the country was summoned to Oslo’s foreign ministry over the matter, while Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere called the arrests “unacceptable.”
“A free press is crucial in a functioning democracy,” Gahr Stoere wrote on Twitter. “This also shows the importance of this year’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize (to journalists). I am very happy that Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani have now been released.”
Ekeland, a sports journalist, and Ghorbani, a photographer, had been in Qatar as the country marked one year to go before the World Cup.
“They had gotten all the permissions needed to conduct interviews,” NRK boss Thor Gjermund Eriksen told a news conference at its headquarters in Oslo.
Ekeland said they "didn’t have a written permission” to film on private property but those there OK'd it. He said security forces in civilian clothes later came to their hotel and asked them to come to a police station.
They “were concerned that we were not allowed to film. But we were invited there by the World Cup organization to film there and there were a bunch of other media organizations there as well,” Ekeland said.
The security forces had a “tone that was quite harsh and they wanted to intimidated us,” but he said ”there were never threats or violence."
"We feel that we were treated well,” Ekeland said.
The journalists told NRK that they were not allowed to leave Qatar with their equipment and authorities had also deleted the footage they had taken at the camp. The Norwegian Union of Journalists and the country’s football federation both criticized the journalists’ arrest.
In a statement to NRK, Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said “they were arrested while performing their duties as journalists.”
“Freedom of expression is the mainstay of a functioning democracy, and also fundamental to be able to fulfill other human rights,” she said.
Qatar’s government said in a statement that the two had been arrested after receiving a complaint from an unidentified private property owner in the country’s Industrial Area, which is home to labor camps. It said that Ekeland had applied for a film permit, but authorities hadn’t granted it before he went to the site.
“As in almost every country, trespassing is against Qatari law, which the crew members were fully aware of before entering the property,” the government said. It acknowledged that “the footage they captured while trespassing was deleted by the authorities in accordance with Qatari law.”