Qatar speaks out over reporter arrests

The Qatar government has claimed BBC journalists were trespassing on private property after arresting them as they sought to report on the condition of migrants involved in World Cup 2022 construction work.

The BBC’s Middle East business correspondent Mark Lobel was arrested in Doha for reporting on the migrant workers, having been invited into Qatar by the prime minister’s office.

Qatar speaks out over reporter arrests

Lobel says he and his accompanying crew were detained for a lengthy period and subject to “hostile” questioning after being the subjects of two days of surveillance prior to their arrests.

In response, the Qatar government said the detentions were made for trespass and breaking Qatari laws.

“By trespassing on private property and running afoul of Qatari laws, the BBC reporter made himself the story,” the Qatar government said.

“We sincerely hope that this was not his intention. Moreover, we deeply regret that he was unable to report the real story, which is that the government and the private sector are making significant progress in efforts to improve the lives and the labour conditions of guest workers in Qatar.”

In a further statement, the BBC said its team was “engaged in a perfectly proper piece of journalism” and requested a full explanation and return of equipment which was confiscated.

The statement added: “The Qatari authorities have made a series of conflicting allegations to justify the detention, all of which the team rejects.”

On the day the arrest was reported, a group campaigning for reform of workers’ rights surrounding the 2022 World Cup addressed the media in London, where a Conservative MP accused FIFA and its sponsors of having blood on their hands.

Yet critics from New FIFA Now, who call Qatar 2022 ’The Hypocrisy World Cup’, believe change can be made “overnight” if FIFA, the world governing body’s sponsors and the Qatari government choose.

Damian Collins MP said: “It’s not acceptable for people to turn a blind eye.

“FIFA has blood on its hands, as do these sponsors, for as long as they turn a blind eye to what’s going on there.

“It’s time we raise our voices. People should demand more action is taken.”

Collins was speaking in London as international workers’ unions joined forces with FIFA pressure groups to demand that FIFA sponsors accept their corporate responsibility and challenge human rights abuses at construction sites in Qatar.

Evidence of squalid living conditions for poorly paid migrant workers employed under the notorious kafala system was presented by Jaimie Fuller, chairman of sports compression wear company SKINS.

International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow said: “If FIFA is serious about this, they can turn it around. They can turn it around, but they choose not to.

“Could we fix everything in seven years? Who knows? But can we turn it around and change the lives and the possibilities for the workers in Qatar? Absolutely. Overnight.”

Burrow says FIFA president Sepp Blatter “has the power” and that his likely re-election next week is about “money, simple as that”.

“If (Dutch football chief Michael) van Praag was elected, we would see change,” Burrow added.

“We know the FIFA executive is split. There are people with decency, with a moral code that will try to change the way in which the game is facilitated.”

Fuller wrote to the heads of eight of FIFA’s sponsors – adidas, Gazprom, Hyundai, Kia, McDonalds, Budweiser, Coca-Cola and Visa – in January and again last week accusing them individually of effectively contravening their own values and principles.

He is yet to receive a single reply.

Burrow said: “What it says is that their moral code is lacking any kind of compass we can endorse. They won’t escape scrutiny.

“The reputational risk for these companies is extraordinary.

“There’s no doubt that these companies themselves could help to change FIFA. They’ve got a choice. We hope they make it.”

Stephen Russell from Playfair Qatar added: “FIFA can change laws to sell beers, but not to save lives.”

Collins said: “If McDonalds beef cattle lived in those conditions, you wouldn’t buy their burgers.

“Why should they expect the men who are building the facilities that will host a tournament they sponsor to be living in those conditions as well. The same applies for the rest of the sponsors as well.”

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