COPENHAGEN / GARDERMOEN / OSLO (VG) NRK journalists Halvor Ekeland (32) and Lokman Ghorbani (45) are back in Norway after being arrested and imprisoned in Qatar. At 05.53 on Wednesday morning they landed in Copenhagen, and at 09.08 they arrived at Gardermoen.
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Ekeland and Ghorbani were arrested at the hotel in Qatar’s capital Doha on Sunday night before they were to return home to Norway. Journalists have been in the country to report on the preparations for the 2022 World Cup.
NRK’s broadcasters spent 32 hours in police custody and were deprived of equipment. They were released on Tuesday and boarded a plane out of the country late that evening.
Just after nine o’clock the two landed at Gardermoen.
– You have been in solitary confinement in Doha, Qatar. Can you say something about how the experience has been?
– It’s not good. It has been awful, says Ghorbani to VG.
When asked how he is doing now, he is more cheerful.
– I’m fine. It is good to be safe, says Ghorbani.
Earlier Wednesday morning, Ekeland and Ghorbani landed at Copenhagen Airport, Kastrup.
– We were arrested at the hotel on Sunday night. We were taken to the police station, and we stayed there for several hours, says Ekeland to VG in Kastrup.
– We have been questioned, but are first and foremost happy to be back in Europe. We’ve been having a hard time. We will have a number of meetings with NRK and find out a number of things, and come back with comments eventually, says Ekeland.
He does not want to say anything if they have done something they had been told not to do, but says they have traveled around and tried to “see what we think is important to see”, including how the stadiums for next year’s World Cup look like and how the guest workers are treated.
– What happened to the camera equipment and the equipment you had with you?
– It is still at the police station, as far as I know. At least we have not brought it home with us, says Ekeland.
– We do not have a complete overview of everything, but they seized a PC and mobile and other equipment, and there is a lot of material. We have already played a lot of it over to NRK, so we do not have a complete overview. But it is also a very serious attack on a journalist, that the police go in and seize unpublished material, says broadcasting director Thor Gjermund Eriksen to VG on Wednesday morning.
Watch the entire interview with Eriksen in the video window below!
Swedish TV4 Fotbollskanalen did an interview on Monday night with the director of the local World Cup organizing committee, Nasser Al Khater. There, Al Khater was asked about the NRK journalists, but then denied knowledge of the situation.
– There is a lot of media here, either to cover the Formula 1 race or the celebration of one year left until the World Cup, but I do not know anything about this. I do not think I have met them, he says in the interview.
Eriksen says that they are very relieved that the two NRK journalists have now landed in Europe and are on their way home.
– But the last few days have been very difficult, we have been worried. It started with us not getting in touch with them, and it took half a day before we learned that they had actually been arrested by the police in Qatar, Eriksen told VG.
– What do you think as a broadcaster when something like this happens?
– I think first and foremost in such a situation, then it is to take care of the two and their family, and do absolutely everything in our power for them to come free and come home. That is the focus we have, and then of course there are thoughts that this is a violent attack on free and independent journalism, an attack on freedom of expression, we know that it is absolutely central in a country like ours, and it makes me both worried and sad, says Eriksen.
– Does this have anything to do with their coverage of the World Cup?
– It is one of the big concerns, by treating journalists this way it has a cooling effect, and for many media and journalists who are reluctant to do what is actually the job, to tell stories and to tell the truth, but right now so I am most concerned with getting them home, and then we get to consider it afterwards, but it is important that we work with it so that such things do not happen again, says Eriksen.
VG contacted both Qatar and FIFA about the incident late Tuesday night, but has not yet received a response.
Minister of Culture Anette Trettebergstuen (Labor Party) characterizes what has happened as a serious violation of freedom of expression.
– When journalists are arrested while doing their job, and have their equipment confiscated by the authorities in Qatar, it is a threat to journalistic freedom that we are all so concerned about. Journalists must be able to carry out their social mission and uncover matters worthy of criticism, as well as move freely. As a world community, we can not sit still and watch such things, she says to VG.
– To what extent should the official Norway react to what has happened here?
– Both I and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are very clear in this matter. It is a serious violation of the freedom of the press and then we respond.
– At the same time, there has been a report from Amnesty telling about the reversal of reforms in Qatar. Does not all this show that the dialogue line Norwegian football has taken on can appear naive?
– I do not care in which line football has chosen. It is up to football to decide, says the Minister from the Labor Party.
The Norwegian Journalists’ Association (NJ) strongly dissociates itself from what they believe is Qatar’s attack on free journalism.
– It is an unsustainable attack on press freedom that the authorities in Qatar prevent our colleagues from showing a broad picture of what is happening in the country, says NJ leader Dag Idar Tryggestad, and adds that the arrests of the two NRK journalists are very promising bad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Many have reacted strongly to the arrest of the journalists. Football President Terje Svendsen is concerned about the conditions of journalists in Qatar.
“It is completely unacceptable for the Qatari authorities to arrest journalists who engage in factual, critical journalism,” he told VG on Tuesday night.
Kjersti Løken Stavrum is head of the Freedom of Expression Commission and head of Norwegian PEN, which works for free speech and against censorship.
– It is completely unacceptable to arrest journalists from any country, also from Norway. This not only shows that the assurances we received in the Qatar Committee are not worth anything, and they are proving more and more like a robber state. It almost means that anything can happen, Stavrum said.
Ekeland and Ghorbani arrived in Qatar on Sunday 14 November and the day after had an agreement with regime critic Abdullah Ibhais.
Ibhais was previously the media and communications director of Qatar’s World Cup organization. He was sentenced in April to five years in prison for misuse of public funds and corruption, but has appealed the sentence.
Earlier this year, Josimar published a lengthy article on the trial against Ibhais, claiming that he was convicted of defending the rights of migrant workers in the country.
– There are great contrasts in this country. There are some workers who are upset. You see in their eyes that they are not well. They work long days and they work hard. And then of course there are some workers who are fine, Ekeland said in a report for Søndagsrevyen this weekend.