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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Qatari embassy 'held Swaziland journalists'

Press freedom campaigners say detention followed interview with acting ambassador about alleged assault

International hotel chains are mushrooming in Qatar ahead of the World Cup in 2022 but the country will still need to accommodate many abroad. EPA
International hotel chains are mushrooming in Qatar ahead of the World Cup in 2022 but the country will still need to accommodate many abroad. EPA

Staff at the Qatari embassy in Swaziland, now known as eSwatini, were accused of detaining two local journalists after they refused to sign an agreement not to publish a report about the acting ambassador.

According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) NGO, the journalists were held for more than an hour at the Qatari embassy on October 5 as staff tried to prevent them from publishing an article about the diplomat's alleged involvement in an assault.

The two journalists, from the Times of Swaziland, were at the embassy to interview Qatar’s acting ambassador Yaqoub Al Mulla about an incident in which he allegedly pointed a firearm at a street vendor.

Mr Al Mulla agreed to the interview but then tried to force the paper's business editor Kwanele Dhladhla and investigative journalist Welcome Dlamini to sign the agreement, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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The Times of Swaziland published a document on Qatari embassy-headed paper which read: "We, the employees of The Times newspaper, are committed not to publish any information of the embassy of the state of Qatar without an order or written permission from the embassy. In case of anything, the newspaper and the responsible persons will be prosecuted."

The Qatari embassy's security staff were told to detain the journalists until they signed the document, according to Misa. They refused and were released after about an hour.

They filed a police complaint against the embassy, accusing the staff of kidnapping.

According to the CPJ, a senior official at the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs emailed a statement saying Mr Al Mulla had agreed to an off-the-record briefing.

The statement said the journalists had “misunderstood the agreed ground rules as the Acting Ambassador was surprised to find that he had been recorded throughout".