Tuesday 25 October 2016

BBC journalist arrested for filming Qatar World Cup 2022 workers

Raziye Akkoc

Published 18/05/2015 | 14:45

BBC Middle East business correspondent Mark Lobel Credit: BBC News
BBC Middle East business correspondent Mark Lobel Credit: BBC News

A BBC journalist has spoken of his ordeal after he was arrested for trying to film the conditions of the migrant workers getting Qatar ready for 2022 World Cup.

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BBC reporter Mark Lobel and his team were invited to Qatar by the prime minister's office to see new flagship accommodation for low-paid migrant workers but while gathering additional material for their report, they ended up being arrested and imprisoned for two nights.

The team had been on their way to film some Nepali workers when they were surrounded by eight white cars and speedily taken to a side road on May 2.

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"Our arrest was dramatic ... A dozen security officers frisked us in the street, shouting at us when we tried to talk. They took away our equipment and hard drives and drove us to their headquarters," Mr Lobel said.

The journalist claims that each individual was interrogated separately by an intelligence officer in a "hostile" manner.

In a sinister turn of events, Mr Lobel said that an hour into his questioning, he was shown pictures of his movements.

"One of the interrogators brought out a paper folder of photographs which proved they had been trailing me in cars and on foot for two days since the moment I'd arrived."

"I was shown pictures of myself and the team standing in the street, at a coffee shop, on board a bus and even lying next to a swimming pool with friends. It was a shock. I had never suspected I was being tailed," he said.  

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In a piece for BBC, Mr Lobel said the individuals were never "accused of anything" directly but repeatedly asked what they were doing and who they had met during their visit.

After thirteen hours of questioning, an interrogator shouted at the journalist and apparently said: "This is not Disneyland. You can't stick your camera anywhere."

The individual threatened the journalists with four days in prison "to teach us a lesson" but Mr Lobel said the morning after a second night prison, they were released and able to rejoin the press trip on May 4.

A temporary ban on leaving Qatar was lifted on May 10 but the journalist said their belongings were not returned.   

A spokesman for Qatar accused the BBC journalist of breaking Qatari laws by trespassing on private property and making himself the story.

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The spokesman said: "The BBC crew decided to do their own site visits and interviews in the days leading up to the planned tour. In doing so, they trespassed on private property, which is against the law in Qatar just as it is in most countries."

"The journalists who took part in the press tour were given an opportunity for a comprehensive look at the problems Qatar... they saw some of the worst labour villages, and some of the best."

"The BBC was meant to be part of that tour, and would have been if they had not chosen to break Qatari laws."

The team were not the only ones arrested recently - a German TV crew was also interrogated this year.

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The German crew had their work deleted and equipment during the filming of a documentary about the World Cup.

The arrest follows the frequent criticism of the authorities' treatment of Nepali workers.

In 2013, it was reported that dozens of migrant workers died and allegations that workers had their passports removed to stop them leaving the country.

The country's kafala system - which stops workers changing jobs for five years - is controversial because it forces migrant workers to be ''tied'' to their employers.


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