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Qatar detains German reporters investigating workers' conditions in lead-up to 2022 World Cup

Construction workers rest during their lunch break in Doha June 18, 2012
Construction workers rest during their lunch break in Doha June 18, 2012

REUTERS/Stringer

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 5 May 2015.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the arbitrary detention of a German TV crew that was investigating the conditions of the migrant workers who are building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

It has emerged that Florian Bauer, a sports reporter for leading German public broadcasters ARD and WDR, was arrested with his crew – a cameraman, a sound engineer and a driver – by Qatari state security police while filming foreign workers on building sites on 27 March.

They were interrogated by the police and then taken before a prosecutor. After being held for 14 hours, they were banned from leaving Qatar for the next five days. The equipment seized at the time of their arrest was returned four weeks later, on 26 April, with with all data on their storage devices deleted.

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by their detention and the arbitrary way the Qatari authorities behaved.

“The government in Doha has to ensure that foreign journalists can investigate critical topics such as the situation of human rights in Qatar unhindered,” said Christian Mihr, the executive director of Reporters Without Borders' German section. “Since Qatar is seeking the international spotlight with this international sports event, it will have to face up to a critical global public.”

The crew was able to leave Qatar on 2 April thanks to the German ambassador's intervention. Arrested for no reason, they were accused of filming without permission although, before travelling to Qatar, Bauer repeatedly tried without success to get permission to film and to interview various Qatari officials.

After much criticism of the conditions of its migrant workers, Qatar had promised to improve their conditions and even announced new labour legislation in November 2014.

Despite this incident, the documentary made by Bauer and his crew was finally broadcast yesterday evening.

This is not an isolated case. Another German journalist, Peter Gieselmann, was arrested in similar circumstances in October 2013. This year, for the Handball World Championship, Qatar and the International Handball Federation “invited” nearly 40% of the journalists who wanted to cover the event. Nonetheless, some journalists reported afterwards that they had to give the Qatari authorities a reason for every interview they wanted to conduct.

Media must have a licence to work in Qatar, where defamation and blasphemy are punishable by imprisonment. News and information providers and civil society representatives have to censor themselves because any criticism of the royal family, any information related to national security or any controversial reporting is off limits.

A cyber-crime law adopted in September 2014 poses an additional threat to freedom of expression and information because it criminalizes the posting of any “false news” online or any content liable to undermine “social values.”

Qatar is ranked 115th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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