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24 Nov, 2021 16:01

World Cup host Qatar arrests Norwegian journalists

World Cup host Qatar arrests Norwegian journalists

A diplomatic row has broken out between Norway and World Cup hosts Qatar after two journalists were arrested in the Middle Eastern country.

NRK sports reporter Halvor Ekeland and NRK cameraman Lokman Ghorbani were apprehended on Sunday while preparing to head to Doha Airport.

Just hours earlier, they had completed a live piece for the Sportsrevyen show back home.

Reporting on the conditions for migrant workers constructing stadiums for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, Ekeland spoke of "stark contrasts", and how some laborers were "doing awfully".

“The encounters we had with workers, those who did not wish to speak with journalists on camera. When I asked them for an interview, you see the fear in their eyes,” he answered, when asked what had shocked him the most during his time in Qatar from November 14.

A spokesperson for the Qatari government said that the men were taken into custody in the early hours of November 22 "for trespassing on private property and filming without a permit".

"The authorities arrested the crew in their hotel after responding to a complaint made by the owner of the private property on which the crew had illegally accessed.

"The crew were released without charge early on 23 November after completing the necessary legal procedures. The Norwegian embassy and NRK executives were updated on the situation as it progressed," it finished.

Recalling how they were arrested at their accommodation and taken to a nearby police station, Ekeland said that he and his colleague were questioned but "first and foremost" happy "to be back in Europe" when landing in Oslo.

"We’ve had a hard time. We will have a number of meetings with NRK and find out a number of things, then comment more," he added.

According to its managing director Thor Gjermund, NRK wasn't informed of the reasons for their employees' detention which he has taken as an attack on free speech and freedom of the press.

"It is unacceptable for the media to be prevented from practicing free and independent journalism at one of the world’s largest sport events," he said via a statement.

"We will be discussing how this should be handled with FIFA," Eriksen vowed.

Ekeland and Ghorbani were reportedly due to interview Abdullah Ibhais, who was until recently the World Cup's communications director.

After being publicly critical of the Qatari leadership, however, Ibhais was arrested and is now appealing against a five-year corruption prison term.

The arrest of the NRK staff members has been tipped as threatening to become a diplomatic incident, with Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store wading into the row.

On Twitter, the leader said that it was "unacceptable".

"A free press is crucial in a functioning democracy," he continued.

"This also shows the importance of this year's awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. I am very happy that Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani have now been released," Store concluded.