The IPI global network condemns the recent arrest of two Norwegian journalists covering the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Journalists covering this major sporting event must be able to do their jobs freely. IPI urgently calls on Qatar to guarantee press freedom.

On November 22, sports journalist Halvor Ekeland and photographer Lokman Gorbani were arrested by Qatari authorities after they filmed footage at a migrant labor camp. Authorities also forced the journalists to delete their material.

On the day of their arrest, Ekeland and Gorbani, who work for the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, had been to a ceremony marking one year before the start of the event, and had conducted a long interview with the head of the World Cup in Qatar. After returning to their hotel, the two were arrested, with police also confiscating their equipment. At the police station, both journalists were separately interrogated for hours, while the other was forced to wait in a small cell.

In a statement, Qatar claimed the pair were arrested for illegal trespassing and filming without a permit in an industrial area home to migrant labor camps. According to the statement, Ekeland had applied for a film permit, which the authorities did not grant, but then went to the site anyway The government added that the “footage they captured while trespassing was deleted by the authorities in accordance with Qatari law.” However, the journalists said that they had received verbal permission from officials at the site to film in the camp area.

After being detained for 32 hours, Ekeland and Gorbani were released on November 24. They arrived today in Norway, where they gave a press conference on the arrest. The two journalists have not received their confiscated equipment back.

IPI Executive Board Member Ole Bjellaanes, sports editor of the Norwegian News Agency, condemned the arrests. “Detaining journalists for 32 hours is not acceptable under any circumstances”, he said. “It shows that there are big problems with press freedom in Qatar. As the media sector and international community, we have to react powerfully and send a clear message against these incidents, because this is not how it should be done.”

IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen echoed Bjellaanes’s comments. “The arrests of Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Gorbani are disproportionate, unacceptable, and raise serious concerns about Qatar’s treatment of journalists”, he said. “The media must be free to report independently on the World Cup and the preparations for it without fear of harassment or arrest. We call on the Qatari authorities to offer assurances that they will fully respect press freedom during and in the run up to the FIFA World Cup, including allowing local and foreign journalists to report on controversial and sensitive issues.”

Interviewing critics

Ekeland and Ghorbani arrived in Qatar on November 14, where they planned on producing “broad coverage” of the upcoming World Cup. Besides attending official ceremonies, they had planned an interview with Abdullah Ibhais, who has repeatedly criticized working conditions in Qatar, the day after their arrival. However, that interview was cancelled — after Ibhais was arrested several hours before the interview.

During the press conference, Ekeland stated that although they were not subject to violence during their detention, “the experience is still tough”. “It is cold, we are hungry and thirsty and tired, but we got through the conversations we had to have there. After the interrogations, they were put in a cell with 10 to 12 other people, in a small room.” After a few hours of sleep, the two had to sign paperwork they did not understand, after which they were released.

NRK’s broadcasting director, Thor Gjermund Eriksen, responded there was “no proportionality in throwing someone in a cell”. “It should not happen and is clearly used as a chilling effect for journalists, warning they should be careful about conducting independent journalism”, he stated during the press conference.

Norwegian authorities have condemned the arrest of the two journalists, as well as the confiscation of their equipment. “The arrest of NRK’s journalists in Qatar is unacceptable. A free press is crucial to a functioning democracy,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a tweet.

Berit Kjøll, president of Norway’s Olympic committee, said in a press release that there must be an end to “awarding major international championships to countries that do not respect freedom of the press and freedom of expression”.