Journalists working on a documentary in late March about the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar were arrested and detained by the country’s government, according to a press statement put out Monday by West German Broadcasting (WDR), the German public broadcasting network that teamed with fellow station ARD to commission the work. Per the statement, translated from German, WDR outlines the March 27 arrest:
“During the filming of the documentary, a camera crew from West German Broadcasting was arrested in Qatar. In recent years, the station had reported on the preparations for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and the living conditions of workers in the country. The team tried for weeks to get permission to shoot (parts of the documentary) and had asked to interview senior government officials about the announced labor law reforms and the living conditions of migrant workers.
“The WDR team was detained during a shoot with workers in the Qatari capital of Doha, then interrogated by state security, brought before the public prosecutor’s office and released after 14 hours. WDR staff could not leave for five days until Qatar’s foreign minister allowed their departure (when the German ambassador intervened, according to Reporters Without Borders). The camera equipment, notebooks and personal cell phones were seized and returned four weeks later. All data were deleted and part of the equipment was damaged.”
Florian Bauer, a sports reporter for ARD and WRD, says he was one of those arrested and detained. He summarized his experience on Twitter and asked FIFA, world soccer’s governing agency, what it plans to do about it. FIFA did not reply back.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the Qatari government’s actions on Tuesday, noting the reason for the German reporters’ arrest and detainment was because they were accused of filming without permission.
“The government in Doha has to ensure that foreign journalists can investigate critical topics such as the situation of human rights in Qatar unhindered,” said Christian Mihr, the executive director of Reporters Without Borders’ German section said in a statement. “Since Qatar is seeking the international spotlight with this international sports event, it will have to face up to a critical global public.”
The data that wasn’t erased aired Monday night as part of the documentary called “The Selling of Soccer — Sepp Blatter and the power of FIFA.” ARD posted a clip of part of it on Twitter (it’s in German without subtitles) showing the deplorable conditions migrant workers in Qatar hired to build FIFA’s facilities still face.
In December, The Guardian reported that Nepalese workers building World Cup facilities in Qatar were dying at a rate of one every two days, despite that the Qatari government has promised reform.
Qatar’s government introduced legislation last May that would put additional limits on what is known as the kafala system. A kind of labor sponsorship program, the kafala is used widely throughout the Middle East. It gives employers the power to issue exit visas, which if abused, can strand migrant workers in Qatar against their will. The country has done little to address safety concerns, however, which has caused organizations such as Amnesty International to continue to decry what they see as inhumane conditions.
On Monday, Hassan Al-Thawadi the secretary general of the committee in charge of the World Cup in Qatar, denied any workers have died because of industrial accidents or injury.
“The World Cup stadium projects that we are responsible for, there have been no fatalities and no major injuries as well,” Thawadi told Agence France-Press (via The Guardian).
Qatar’s labor minister Dr. Abdullah bin Saleh al-Khulaifi also said on Monday that the country still has plans to replace the kafala system with a new program based on five-year employment contracts.
“I hope it will be prior to the year end,” he told AFP. “I am 90 percent hopeful or believe that it will be.”
Whether it changes or not, however, critics fear it will be in name only.
“It’s another form of kafala with a different name, admittedly less restrictive but with many of the same problems,” said Mustaf Qadri, Gulf migrant rights researcher for Amnesty International.