The Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) has condemned what it calls attempts by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to “manipulate” African journalists into speaking out against the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
In a resolution released on Wednesday, the FAJ expressed “dismay” over efforts by the UAE to “manipulate journalists’ organisations in Africa to issue public statements or campaign against the 2022 FIFA World Cup”.
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The resolution, adopted at the African Journalists Leaders’ Conference held this week in the Ghanaian capital Accra, also called on football’s world governing body, FIFA, as well as the regional body, the Confederation of African Football, to investigate and sanction those responsible.
— Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) (@FAJafrica) June 3, 2021
FAJ President Sadiq Ibrahim Ahmed told Al Jazeera that at least eight African journalist associations had been contacted by people they believe are connected to high-ranking UAE officials, who pressured them to hold news conferences and speak out against Qatar hosting the World Cup and to encourage African teams to boycott the tournament.
He said the approaches to the associations were all made within the last three months, with the most recent reported about two weeks ago, and that they were political demands “under the pretext of ‘labour rights violations’ in Qatar”.
“FAJ and its affiliated unions cannot allow African journalists to be used as if Africans are cheap people that can be manipulated and used to settle political scores,” Ahmed said.
“We are not interested in political disputes in the Gulf. Our main mandate is to defend journalists and their interests as well as media freedom.”
The resolution also cited concerns that the “unprecedented interference” could compromise reporting by African journalists on the tournament.
Qatar will be the first country in the Middle East to stage football’s biggest competition. The event kicks off in November next year.
The UAE’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, along with Egypt, severed economic and diplomatic ties with Qatar in June 2017 and imposed a land, sea and air blockade, accusing it of supporting “terrorism”.
Qatar repeatedly denied the claims.
In January, Saudi Arabia announced a deal to end the dispute. But diplomats and regional sources have reportedly said Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been moving faster than the UAE and Bahrain to repair ties with Doha.
Affail Monney, president of the Ghana Journalist Association and executive board member of the FAJ, told Al Jazeera he wants African journalists to be free to do their jobs without political interference.
“Journalists in particular should not be drawn into issues outside their interests, scope and mandate,” he said.
“We reject any attempt at manipulation to use us or to set us on a collision course with Qatar.”
In its resolution, the FAJ also noted the “unparalleled progress” made by Qatar in improving workers’ rights.
Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and its human rights record have been under scrutiny since it was awarded the rights to host the tournament in 2010.
A media report published in March alleged that 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since then.
Qatar responded by saying that “the mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population”.
There has also been criticism by rights groups and protests by footballers over working conditions in Qatar – especially during the summer when temperatures often exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104F) – wage abuse and lack of rights for migrant workers, who comprise about 95 percent of the Gulf country’s population.
Qatar’s government says it has made several reforms over the years around working conditions and labour rights.
Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), expressed support for the FAJ’s resolution in a statement on Twitter.
Burrow thanked the FAJ for “rejecting [the] shameful approach by UAE detractors who themselves still exploit migrant workers” and said the “focus needs to be on implementation of new laws in Qatar that protect workers”.
Last year, the ITUC said workers’ rights had significantly improved in Qatar following a series of reforms.
@ituc The focus needs to be on implementation of new laws in Qatar that protect workers – thank you to ethical African journalists rejecting shameful approach by UAE detractors who themselves still exploit migrant workers with a Kafala system of modern slavery! https://t.co/NEtwY3GYgS
— Sharan Burrow (@SharanBurrow) June 3, 2021