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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Norwegian journalist arrested for assault in Qatar days after reporters detained for trespassing


A third journalist was arrested for assaulting a member of the public.

A third Norwegian journalist has been arrested in Doha after assaulting a member of the public, as a top Qatari official responded to statements by Norway over an earlier incident that involved two other reporters.

Havard Melnaes, known for penning critical pieces on Qatar, arrived in Doha last week without facing any issues at the border despite authorities being aware of his arrival.

This is despite the editor of Norwegian football magazine Josimar being highly critical of the Gulf state’s winning bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup – a historic feat that will see the global sporting event come to the Middle East region for the first time in its history.

Among the many articles written by Melnaes was one titled “Blood, sweat and gold plated PR” that was published in 2018.

Responding to the arrest of two journalists from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation [NRK] who were found to be trespassing on private property in Doha last week, Melnaes said: “I hope you finally get your eyes open for what Qatar stands for. With the arrests of these two NRK employees, Qatar is showing its true face.”

Within a day or two of his arrival Doha, Melnaes was detained for assaulting a member of the public as he left a bar at a 5-star hotel.

Due to his aggressive behaviour, police were contacted later that night and he was subsequently taken in for questioning after the individual made an official complaint. Police found that Melnaes was acting under the influence of alcohol during the assault and he was released less than 24 hours later after charges against him were dropped.

Doha News reached out to Melnaes, who categorically refused to give a comment on the matter and instead threatened legal action if the article is published. He did however confirm to Doha News that he is still freely reporting from Qatar.

Like most countries, including Qatar, physical and verbal assault are punishable by law.

The incident came as Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater expressed her disappointment in recent statements by Norway that addressed the incident involving the two journalist.

During a virtual meeting with Norway’s ambassador to Doha Sten Arne Rosnes on Saturday, Al Khater noted that all statements had failed to address the “the deliberate infringement of private property by the journalists”.

“Her Excellency emphasised that the Norwegian embassy must play a role in briefing its citizens who visit Qatar to uphold the rule of law,” read a statement by the Gulf state’s foreign ministry [MOFA].

Last week, journalists Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani were in Qatar to cover the one year countdown to the 2022 FIFA World Cup as well as the issue of migrant workers’ welfare.

The pair were arrested for trespassing while in Qatar and released the next morning without charges.

Despite receiving what has been described as unfettered access in the Gulf state, including to the newly-appointed minister of labour, the UN’s International Labour Organisation [ILO] and an interview with senior World Cup official Hassan Al-Thawadi, the NRK journalists pursued to enter private property without permission.

Qatar’s Government Communications Office [GCO] disputed the Norwegian statements – which claimed the journalists were arrested for performing their duties – by confirming they were detained following a complaint made by a private property owner to police about two men who had tresspassed onto his real estate.

Both Ekeland and Ghorbani had reported extensively on Qatar and have been on several trips abroad for NRK in recent years.

Norwegian boycott efforts

In June, Norway’s parliament voted against boycotting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar despite running several campaigns in recent months against the host nation.

“The Federal Parliament decides that the NFF will not adopt a boycott,” the NFF confirmed to the press at the time.

This was announced after an extraordinary congress called by NFF in which 368 delegates voted against the boycott while just 121 were in favour. Its eight-member executive committee and representatives of 18 districts, as well as hundreds of professional and amateur clubs were in attendance.

The NFF was searching for an expert committee to support the move, however committees stood against a formal boycott.

The movement calling for a boycott first started when Norwegian club Tromso IL spoke out against alleged human rights abuses of migrant workers in Qatar last February.

“We can no longer sit and watch people die in the name of football,” the first division club said.

‘Human rights – on or off the pitch’ were the words written on the bibs of the Norwegian football team as they warmed up for the first game of the European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in March.

This triggered several campaigns amongst European clubs such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden against the 2022 World Cup in the Gulf state.

Norway’s national team has not qualified for the World Cup in Qatar next year.

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