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Detained and interrogated in Qatar

Florian Bauer / jc
May 11, 2015

In March, Qatari police arrested political sports reporter Florian Bauer and his camera team. The incident attracted international attention and proved embarrassing for the controversial 2022 World Cup host.

Katar Doha Baustelle Arbeiter OVERLAYFÄHIG
Image: Getty Images

We're on the edge of a dusty football pitch in the industrial area, when they appear. Two men in white robes who tell us to turn off the cameras. Immediately. One of them mutters something. It takes me a moment to realise what he's saying: "Police." I have to ask repeatedly before the men show me their identification. It says "State Security."

Florian Bauer ARD Sportreporter
ARD political sports reporter Florian BauerImage: Florian Bauer

It takes hours for them to take us to the police station. No one tells me why we're being detained, but gradually I figure out that it's because we didn't have permission to film. I'd been to Qatar a number of times to report about the political and athletic ambitions of the country with the world's highest per-capita income.

I'm interested in the preparations for the 2022 World Cup, about the Emirates' publicity, about the billions that have been spent on the project and the conditions for foreign workers in Qatar. I never had any problems. No-one ever treated me badly. Until that Friday afternoon in late March.

14 hours of interrogation

The project I was working on when my driver, my cameramen and I were arrested was a documentary for German public television called "Football For Sale." We were shooting footage of foreign workers playing football on their one day off in the week. For that we were interrogated by police and state security officials for fourteen hours.

Katar Polizeikräfte
A strong police presence in the streetsImage: Getty Images/AFP/K. Jafaar

I tell them about the journalistic work I've done in Qatar in years past and about my attempts to understand the way the country worked. I have interviewed a lot of Qataris. I've seen their homes and been invited to dinner. That's unusual. Qataris are often quite reticent toward foreigners.

Before this trip I spent six weeks researching whether the situation of the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in Qatar has really changed, as the Qatari government promised last year. I requested interviews with the Labor and Interior Ministries and even the Emir of Qatar.

I applied for permission to film from at least five offices, informed the Qatari embassy in Berlin about my project and sent the Qatar News Agency in Doha a list of our equipment and intentions. When nothing positive was forthcoming, we faced the decision of whether to travel to Qatar anyway.

We decide to go. Qatar cannot be allowed to decide unilaterally what the public is allowed to know. At issue is the maintenance of human rights in conjunction with the biggest sporting event in the world. Unfortunately we end up in a non-descript police station.

A "misunderstanding"

High-ranking Qatari officials will later apologise and say that there's not much we can be accused of. We hadn't concealed anything, and we should have been given permission to shoot footage. They even offer to pay us compensation. One official tells us we've been the victims of a "misunderstanding." But we're never told precisely why we were detained.

Katar Doha Arbeiter Baustelle
Minimum wage and unsafe temperatures: life for the foreign worker in QatarImage: picture alliance/augenklick

Qatar would like to put the incident behind it. The resonance in the foreign press was extremely negative when the news of our detention broke. The Washington Post, the Daily Telegraph and even Doha News in Qatar reported on what happened to us. 'Reporters Without Borders' calls our treatment arbitrary and shocking.

"I expect the German embassy in Qatar to speak up and demand an explanation and compensation for destroyed material," says Barbara Lochbihler from the European Parliament's Committee on Human Rights. "We also have the chance to do the same in the European Parliament, and we'll be discussing it."

After the interrogations are over, we're allowed to return to our hotel in Doha, but we're not permitted to leave the country. Five days later, after it has become clear that the situation could take weeks or months to resolve, the Qatari Foreign Minister intervenes, and we're free to go. The equipment we've had confiscated is supposed to be returned four days later. In fact, that takes three-and-a-half weeks. All the data on our mobile phones, my laptop and our hard-drives have been erased. This includes private photos and contact details of friends. In diplomatic circles, people are outraged. To this day, I still have never had my private data restored.

Potential Consequences

Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives at the NGO Human Rights Watch, says that Qatar was awarded the right to host the 2022 World Cup in line with the Olympic Charter.

Minky Worden Sport-Expertin bei Human Rights Watch
Minky Worden: "We're taking the event away."Image: DW/H. Kiesel

"The rules are clear as day," she says. "You have to allow freedom of the press. Otherwise you're not allowed to host a major sports event. By no means are you allowed to detain journalists or confiscate their material."

Worden says international sports organisations like the International Olympic Committee and football's governing body FIFA need to hold Qatar accountable.

"They're responsible for enforcing the rules," she says. "And if their partners break those rules, the IOC or FIFA need to go to them and say, 'We're taking the event away.'"

That won't happen. The World Cup will be coming to Qatar. So will I. to a country that continues despite my most recent experiences to fascinate me. A country with big ambitions. A country which, if conditions for workers, are improved, could be an impressive World Cup host. I'll be back. And hopefully this time I won't be arrested.