A journalist and crew from the British broadcaster BBC were detained in Qatar earlier this month while gathering information for a report on migrant workers.

Mark Lobel, the BBC journalist, has said that he and a cameraman, a translator and a driver were arrested in Doha while gathering additional material for a report on accommodation for low-paid migrant workers.

They spent two nights in jail and their equipment was confiscated.

Qatar has said the group was detained because they trespassed on private property, "which is against the law in Qatar just as it is in most countries."

The BBC crew had been invited to Doha by the Qatar government to see new accommodation provided for migrant workers, in a tour arranged by the Qatar World Cup organising committee, which answers to FIFA, the international body responsible for the organisation of football's major international tournaments, notably the World Cup.

Qatar says the press tour was designed to provide a better understanding of its migrant-labour challenges [AFP/Getty Images]

The Qatar government says "the press tour for reporters from the UK, Europe and the region ... was designed to provide a better understanding of the challenges Qatar is facing - and the progress it is making - on the issue of migrant labour".

Rights groups have criticised the working and housing conditions of labourers constructing new buildings in Qatar in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

FIFA has said it will investigate the incident.

"Any instance relating to an apparent restriction of press freedom is of concern to FIFA and will be looked into with the seriousness it deserves," FIFA said in a statement on Monday.

For his part, Lobel said in a story published by the BBC News website, the BBC team was en route to film a group of migrant workers on a quiet stretch of road in Doha when, "suddenly, eight white cars surrounded our vehicle and directed us on to a side road at speed".

Lobel said he and his crew were frisked by security officers and taken to headquarters for questioning, before being transferred to a prison, where they spent two nights.

They were later allowed to join the organised press trip to which they had been invited.

Presence 'no secret'

In a statement, BBC said: "We are pleased that the BBC team has been released but we deplore the fact that they were detained in the first place. Their presence in Qatar was no secret and they were engaged in a perfectly proper piece of journalism."

The BBC also requested a full explanation and the return of the crew's equipment.

The Qatar government has said it had invited the reporters to see some substandard accommodation as well as some of the newer labour villages, and had arranged interviews with the minister of labour and social welfare and other authorities.

"Perhaps anticipating that the government would not provide this sort of access, the BBC crew decided to do their own site visits and interviews in the days leading up to the planned tour. In doing so, they trespassed on private property, which is against the law in Qatar just as it is in most countries," the statement said.

Qatar is building several stadiums in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament where the football matches will be held [EPA]

"The journalists who took part in the press tour were given an opportunity for a comprehensive look at the problems Qatar is facing and the progress the government and the private sector are making to address those problems. 

"They saw some of the worst labour villages and some of the best. The BBC was meant to be part of that tour and would have been if they had not chosen to break Qatari laws."

The Qatar government statement continued: "Once the BBC reporter and his crew were released from detention, we tried to help them get the basic elements for the story they had missed."

"While the full programme could not be duplicated, a separate one-on-one interview with the minister of labour and social welfare was arranged and they were able to tour a modern labour village.

"By trespassing on private property and running afoul of Qatari laws, the BBC reporter made himself the story. We sincerely hope that this was not his intention. Moreover, we deeply regret that he was unable to report the real story, which is that the government and the private sector are making significant progress in efforts to improve the lives and the labour conditions of guest workers in Qatar."

Source: Al Jazeera