Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani, who NRK said had been in the World Cup 2022 host nation as it marked one year to go before football’s biggest tournament, were reportedly detained in their hotel after earlier reporting on the condition of migrant labourers.
The arrests threatened to become a diplomatic incident as the Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Stoere tweeted that “the arrest of NRK’s journalists in Qatar is unacceptable. A free press is crucial to a functioning democracy”.
Qatar’s government said the pair were arrested for trespassing.
They were taken into custody on Sunday night and released on Tuesday. The pair – Ekeland is a writer and Ghorabni, a photographer – are now back home..
Ekeland told Norwegian tabloid VG that they were glad to be in Norway and that “we’ve had a hard time”.
The journalists told NRK that they were not allowed to leave with their equipment. The Norwegian Union of Journalists criticized the reporters’ arrest.
“It is pretty good to be back on Norwegian soil,” Ekeland told reporters upon arrival at the Oslo airport. “It has been some challenging days but we knew lots of people were working for us, so that was good.”
He added: “We were held for 32 hours.”
In a statement to NRK, Norway’s foreign minister Anniken Huitfeldt said “they were arrested while performing their duties as journalists”.
“Freedom of expression is the mainstay of a functioning democracy, and also fundamental to be able to fulfil other human rights,” she said.
The pair were due to interview Abdullah Ibais, a former worker for the World Cup organising committee in Qatar, who is currently in jail on charges of misuse of funds and bribery. Ibais maintains he has been imprisoned for publicly criticising the treatment of workers in Qatar.
The Norwegians are not the first journalists to be arrested while visiting Qatar.
In 2015, a BBC journalist was also held for trespassing after being invited to the Gulf state to report on workers’ conditions.
The 2022 World Cup starts on November 21, next year. At the weekend there were celebrations in Doha to mark the countdown, attended by various celebrities, including David Beckham, who is thought to have signed a deal to be an ambassador for the World Cup.
Qatar has come under intense global scrutiny ever since it was controversially selected by FIFA to host the World Cup.
It has faced charges of corruption surrounding its winning bid – claims Doha denies – as well as wholesale criticism of its treatment of the almost two million migrant workers in the country, helping to prepare the country for next year’s tournament.
Norway has been one of the biggest critics of the decision to give the World Cup to the wealthy Gulf state and had even talked about boycotting the event, but its national team has been knocked out of the tournament at the qualifying stage.
A statement from Qatar’s government communications office said: “As in almost every country, trespassing is against Qatari law, which the crew members were fully aware of before entering the property.
“The crew were given access to film wherever they wanted in Qatar. They were provided with all the filming permits they had requested prior to their arrival and were offered meetings with senior government and third-party officials.
“These freedoms, however, do not override the application of common law, which the crew knowingly and wilfully violated. As a result of these violations, the crew were temporarily detained.”