News 6 May 2015

Qatari police detain German documentary makers

Qatari police detained the makers of a documentary investigating the conditions of migrant construction workers in Qatar for over five days, seized their equipment and deleted their footage. ‘It has emerged that Florian Bauer, a sports reporter for leading German public broadcasters ARD and WRD, was arrested with his crew – a cameraman, a sound engineer and a drive – by Qatari state security police while filming foreign workers on building sites on 27 March’, read a statement from Reporters Without Borders. ‘They were interrogated by the police and then taken before a prosecutor. After being held for 14 hours, they were banned from leaving Qatar for the next five days. The equipment seized at the time of their arrest was returned four weeks later, on 26 April, with all data on their storage devices deleted.’

Some of the undeleted footage can be viewed here. It is understood that Bauer and his crew were filming footage that would be featured as part of a new documentary, ‘Der verkaufte Fußball – Sepp Blatter und die Macht der FIFA (The selling of football – Sepp Blatter and the power of FIFA)’. This was intended to highlight the new corruption allegations that have emerged around the awarding of the 2022 tournament to Qatar, as well as investigate whether migrant construction worker conditions have actually improved, as promised by Qatar. Despite the deleted footage and alleged damage to their equipment, ARD screened the documentary on 4 May at 6pm. It will be repeated on WDR on 11 May at 10pm.

The team had apparently been trying to get permission to film conditions in the migrant construction camps, as well permission to interview government officials regarding the introduction of planned labour law reforms. These reforms were announced after concern over the ‘kafala’ system, which organisations such as Human Rights Watch say prevent migrant construction workers from leaving their country or their jobs.

‘The journalist and the film crew concerned were not arrested as a result of reporting on allegations surrounding the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar or FIFA’, read a statement from the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. ‘Any suggestion to the contrary is explicitly false. Any media outlet wishing to film in Qatar requires a film permit to do so, as is common in many countries. Any working journalist who has visited Qatar will be aware of this process and understand filming in specific locations without permission runs the risk of legal repercussions. The journalist in question has visited Qatar several times before.’

Reporters Without Borders said that the crew were able to leave Qatar on 2 April, following the intervention of the German ambassador. Media must have a licence to work in Qatar. ‘Defamation and blasphemy are punishable by imprisonment’, continued the Reporters Without Borders statement. ‘News and information providers and civil society representatives have to censor themselves because any criticism of the royal family, any information related to national security or any controversial reporting is off limits’.

In addition, a September 2014 Cyber Crime law implemented in September last year further threatens press freedom. ‘Under the new law, the authorities may ban websites that they consider threatening to the “safety” of the country and punish anyone who posts or shares online content that “undermines” Qatar’s “social values” or “general order”, though the law fails to define the meaning of these terms’, read a statement from Amnesty International.

Journalists signing up to receive official media releases from the official Qatar 2022 World Cup internet site must agree to terms of use, which mandate that reporters must not use the website or its services ‘in any way that breaches any applicable local, national or international law or regulation (including Qatari law)’; or ‘to disseminate any unlawful or otherwise objectionable material in the opinion of SC [organising committee]’. Contributions to the website must ‘comply with applicable law in the State of Qatar’.

In February 2014, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy of the 2022 FIFA World Cup published new Workers’ Welfare Standards. This was designed to ensure that migrant construction workers employed in connection with the construction of facilities for the tournament were paid every month, and set limited entitlements for workers to terminate their contracts.

It is understood that the documentary makers were attempting to ascertain whether these Standards had actually been implemented on construction camps. The Sports Integrity Initiative asked FIFA to comment on whether it would be investigating the situation. FIFA referred us to the 5 May statement issued by the Qatar 2022 organising committee, featured above.

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