DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Qatari security forces detained two Norwegian state television journalists for more than 30 hours and deleted footage they gathered in a migrant labor camp while they were trying to cover up workers’ issues ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, authorities said on Wednesday.

The Qatari government accused NRK journalists Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani of “trespassing on private property and filming without a permit” as the two returned to Norway on Wednesday after their arrest. The journalists claimed to have obtained verbal permission from those they filmed there.

The arrests sparked a diplomatic dispute between Norway and Qatar. Norwegian news agency NTB reported that the Qatari ambassador to the country had been summoned to the Oslo Foreign Ministry over the matter.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere called the arrests “unacceptable”.

“A free press is crucial in a functioning democracy,” Gahr Stoere wrote on Twitter. “It also shows the importance of this year’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize (to journalists). I am very happy that Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani are now released. “

The arrests, a year before the World Cup, show the continued sensitivity felt by the autocratic government of Qatar, a small, energy-rich nation on the Arabian Peninsula. Other journalists faced similar issues and detentions while working in Qatar ahead of the World Cup.

Ekeland, sports journalist, and Ghorbani, photographer, were in Qatar as the country scored a year before the World Cup.

“They had obtained all the necessary permits to conduct interviews,” NRK boss Thor Gjermund Eriksen told a press conference at his headquarters in Oslo.

Ekeland said they “did not have written permission” to film on private property, but those there agreed. He said plainclothes security forces later came to their hotel and asked them to go to a police station.

They “feared that we would not be allowed to film. But we were invited there by the World Cup organization to film there and there was also a bunch of other media organizations, ”Ekeland said.

The security forces had a “rather harsh tone and they wanted to intimidate us”, but he said “there was never any threats or violence”.

“We think we have been treated well,” Ekeland said.

Journalists told NRK that they were not allowed to leave Qatar with their equipment. The Norwegian Union of Journalists and the country’s football federation have both criticized the arrest of the journalists.

In a statement to NRK, Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said “they were arrested while carrying out their duties as journalists”.

“Freedom of expression is the pillar of a functioning democracy, and it is also fundamental to being able to respect other human rights,” she said.

The Qatari government said in a statement that the two men were arrested after receiving a complaint from an unidentified private owner in the country’s industrial zone, which houses labor camps. He said Ekeland applied for a film permit, but authorities did not grant it until he visited the site.

Qatar, like other Gulf Arab states where speaking is strictly regulated, requires journalists to have permissions to operate and film.

“As in almost all countries, the trespassing is against Qatari law, of which the crew members were fully aware before entering the property,” the government said. He admitted that “the images they captured during an intrusion were deleted by the authorities in accordance with Qatari law”.

Asked about the Qatari government’s comments on journalists, NRK declined to comment immediately, saying “our main concern now is their well-being.”

Qatar, which rises like an inch in the Persian Gulf, is home to the forward headquarters of the US Army’s Central Command. It has come under increased scrutiny of the treatment of migrant workers in the country since winning the right to host the next tournament.

Olsen reported from Copenhagen.

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