Qatar says detained Danish journalist 'was flouting the law'

Government Communications Office claims TV crew lacked requisite permissions and was trespassing when arrested in Doha last month

Labour City in Doha. (Photo: MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)]

Labour City in Doha. (Photo: MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)]

A Danish television journalist was trespassing on private property when he was detained in Qatar during a reporting trip last month, the Qatari government has said.

Niels Borchert Holm, a journalist with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, did not have the requisite permissions to film at Qatar’s new workers’ accommodation complex Labour City and was “violating workers’ rights”, the Government Communications Office stated in an article for Doha News at the weekend.

It also asked for a formal apology from the Danish state broadcaster for “deliberate falsehoods” contained in Borchert Holm’s account of the incident written on the corporation’s website last month.

Borchert Holm was detained along with two members of his television crew on May 5 during a visit to report on migrant workers ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, he wrote.

He claimed the trio were taken to a police station, interrogated and detained for ten hours by officials, and made to sign documents confessing to filming in Qatar without permission and trespassing on private property.

Footage obtained that morning was confiscated along with personal documents, he claimed; the crew was forced to leave the former in Qatar when they were allowed to leave the police station and opted to fly back to Copenhagen that night.

Borchert Holm wrote in his account: “Why are the media so critical of Qatar, [an arresting officer] asks us. Why don’t journalists tell the positive stories?

“Well, one is tempted to reply, let’s start with this situation. Detaining journalists for days is hardly the way to achieve better coverage.”

But the GCO has responded via an article in Doha News. It said; “Mr Borchert Holm first visited Qatar in March 2016 and sought accreditation for a follow-up visit to film Qatar’s football match against Hong Kong.

“He also requested the opportunity to shoot generic ‘B-roll’ footage. During this initial visit, Mr Borchert Holm met with representatives of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the Qatar Football Association and the Government Communications Office (GCO).

“The GCO advised Mr Borchert Holm on March 24 that it had secured accreditation for him to film the football match, but that there was not enough time to secure permission for him to film at additional locations in Qatar…The GCO did everything it could to facilitate Mr Borchert Holm’s visit to Qatar in an exceptionally short timeframe.

“During his initial visit, and in subsequent phone calls, the GCO also took the time to discuss Qatar more widely, the challenges it is facing, and the reforms it has pledged to undertake.”

The GCO added that on Borchert Holm’s second visit to Qatar on May 4, he contacted a number of Qatari agencies to arrange logistics related to the football final. “But at no point during either his first or second visit did Mr. Borchert Holm request permission to film at a labour site or workers’ accommodation facility,” it said.

Most of the labour housing in Qatar is owned and operated by private companies. Entering these facilities without permission is a violation of the workers’ privacy and of Qatar trespassing laws, the GCO added.

“Mr Borchert Holm was certainly aware of this, and could not have been surprised when security forces were called and he and his colleagues were detained.

“Since Mr Borchert Holm had never sought permission to film at an accommodation site, we can only wonder if getting arrested was not his intention all along,” it concluded.

Doha News reported that the Danish journalist had hit back at the GCO’s claims, insisting the crew had “informed the relevant authorities of our intentions”.

He told the newspaper: “It is regrettable that the GCO is now making such unfounded claims about our preparations and intentions.

“I find it increasingly difficult to believe that our arrest and the GCO’s complaints are nothing more than a misunderstanding over formalities.

“However, if that is indeed the case, let me make a renewed appeal to the government to work with us, to invite us back to Qatar under different circumstances and let us report to the world how the 2022 World Cup is being prepared.

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