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Qatar arrests BBC journalist on government press trip

May 18, 2015 3:06 P.M. (Updated: May 18, 2015 3:06 P.M.)
Qatar is to build seven "cities" to house 250,000 migrant laborers. (AFP/Marwan Naamani)
DOHA (AFP) -- A BBC journalist invited to Qatar to examine the living conditions of workers building infrastructure for the 2022 football World Cup was detained for more than 24 hours, the broadcaster reported Monday.

Mark Lobel, a BBC business correspondent based in Dubai, said he and colleagues were arrested in the capital Doha as they went to film a group of Nepalese workers.

It is the second time in weeks that Qatari authorities have arrested journalists attempting to report on the living conditions of the Gulf emirate's large migrant workforce.

In March, a German television reporter and colleague were detained while filming in an area of Doha where many laborers live.

The arrests come as Qatar is engaged in a public relations drive to try to counter international criticism of its treatment of migrant workers.

Lobel said he and three colleagues were held for more than 24 hours, spending two nights in prison.

No charges were laid against the BBC crew but their equipment and belongings were confiscated and have not yet been returned.

He wrote on the BBC News website that the arrest was "dramatic."

"Suddenly, eight white cars surrounded our vehicle and directed us on to a side road at speed," he said.

"A dozen security officers frisked us in the street, shouting at us when we tried to talk. They took away our equipment and hard drives and drove us to their headquarters.

"Later, in city's main police station, the cameraman, translator, driver and I were interrogated separately by intelligence officers. The questioning was hostile."

After their release the BBC crew were allowed to join the official press tour, organised by a London-based public relations company, Portland Communications.

The Qatari government has claimed in recent weeks that it is improving conditions for laborers.

Doha has introduced a wage protection system to ensure laborers get paid on time and is building several new residential neighborhoods to improve living conditions.

It has also said it is soon likely to end the controversial kafala system, under which foreign workers must have a Qatari sponsor, which critics have likened to modern-day slavery.
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