By Staff writer
Gov't spokesman says BBC team arrested after members departed from official tour; BBC says deplores detention of its staff
Qatar's government said on Monday that the BBC crew thrown in jail while reporting on working conditions for World Cup 2022 labourers had been "trespassing on private property".
A statement issued by the government said that the BBC crew were arrested after departing from an official tour but the BBC responded by saying it deplored the action of Qatar officials in detaining its staff, adding that it was pressing for an explanation.
The Qatar statement said: "The Government Communications Office invited a dozen reporters to see - first-hand - some sub-standard labour accommodation as well as some of the newer labour villages. We gave the reporters free rein to interview whomever they chose and to roam unaccompanied in the labour villages.
"Perhaps anticipating that the government would not provide this sort of access, 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. Security forces were called and the BBC crew was detained."
The BBC's Middle East business correspondent Mark Lobel and his crew were detained for two nights by Qatar officials despite being invited to the country by prime minister’s office as part of efforts to improve the country's public relations profile.
The invitation to Doha, along with a number of other journalists, was intended to show the new flagship accommodation for low-paid migrant workers, but instead of showing the spacious and comfortable villas for construction workers - with swimming pools, gyms and welfare officers - the BBC crew ended up spending two nights in jail.
The BBC said: "We are pleased that the BBC team has been released but we deplore the fact that they were detained in the first place. Their presence in Qatar was no secret and they were engaged in a perfectly proper piece of journalism.
"The Qatari authorities have made a series of conflicting allegations to justify the detention, all of which the team rejects. We are pressing the Qatari authorities for a full explanation and for the return of the confiscated equipment."
Fifa, which has been repeatedly criticised for the way Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, said it was investigating the arrests.
“Any instance relating to an apparent restriction of press freedom is of concern to Fifa and will be looked into with the seriousness it deserves,” it said in a statement.
Earlier, Lobel recounted the story of how he and his cameraman, translator and driver were detained.
“The working and housing conditions of migrant workers constructing new buildings in Qatar ahead of the World Cup have been heavily criticised and we wanted to see them for ourselves. Suddenly, eight white cars surrounded our vehicle and directed us on to a side road at speed,” Lobel said in a report on the BBC website.
The dozen officers, driving in eight cars, surrounded the BBC vehicle and proceeded to frisk and search all the occupants before they were transferred to the city’s main police station, he said.
“An hour into my grilling, 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,” Lobel said.
On what was supposed to be the first day of their PR tour, they were handcuffed and taken to the department of public prosecutions to be questioned for a second time. After 13 hours of interrogation and questioning, one of the officials snapped: “This is not Disneyland. You can’t stick your camera anywhere.”
They were reportedly threatened with a further four days in prison – to teach them a lesson – but after a second night of sleeping “on a disgusting soiled mattress”, they were released the following morning.
Lobel said no charges were brought against them, but the equipment seized by officials has not been returned.
shame Qatar shame.
If these folks broke the law, as claimed by Qatari officials, then there might be consequence. If reporters think they are above the law, then they are mistaken. If they had not been shown representative accommodations, instead of just the luxury ones, then the story would be different (hiding, no transparency, etc). Sometimes cowboys get bitten by rattlesnakes. I wonder, if proven there was illegal trespass, if the BBC will deplore the illegal activity????
Hopefully all the fans will decide they don't want to trespass on private property and boycott the Tournament completely.
"trespassed on private property"
in other words, they went where Qatar did not want them to go.