A three-part series on giving birth in Qatar

Megan Sparks/Flickr
Megan Sparks/Flickr

I recently wrote three stories for Doha News about the state of maternity services in Qatar. They were the result of a lengthy process of research, multiple interviews and communication with hospitals (where it was possible – Al Ahli hospital refused to reply) to get their responses and points of view.

The first piece was about systemic issues which midwives and doulas working in the country allege make giving birth in Qatar at times unpleasant, overly-medicalised and in the case of a restriction on opiates, very painful.

The second piece carried on in this vein, examining the aftercare new mothers do (and do not) receive from medical facilities in Qatar; and in the third piece, I spoke to three women who had experienced miscarriage and stillbirth in the country. It was a depressing story to write, and all three women called for change in hospital policies.

The comments underneath each story are very interesting. There’s a real mix – some women were clearly delighted with the care they received, saying that it was far better than in their home countries, while others argued strongly that the opposite was true.

Have you given birth in Qatar? What was your experience like?




“My name is Catherine. I am in desperate need.”

Catherine and Adam
Adam and Catherine at Doha’s Hamad International Airport

“My name is Catherine. I am in desperate need.”

The email arrived in my inbox just before bed on December the 9th, 2012. I’d had an ordinary, well-off Qatar expat sort of day; the drive to and from school twice, a morning of writing, a coffee with a friend in the afternoon, and a trip around the supermarket.

Catherine’s email cut through my privileged, cushioned, segregated life like a serrated knife through butter.

She told me that she had been following me for some time on Twitter, and had read an article I’d written for the Telegraph about the birth of my son in a Qatari hospital. It was this that had prompted her to pose me some very pressing questions.

“I just don’t know where to ask” she wrote. “I want to know if you have any idea about the laws here in Qatar regarding giving birth without a marriage certificate and single?“

It turned out that Catherine was 37 weeks pregnant, and single. Having sex outside of wedlock and giving birth unmarried are both illegal under Qatari law; the two crimes are usually referred to colloquially as “love cases.”

I knew a few single Western women who’d got pregnant unexpectedly in Qatar. They’d either flown home on the first available flight or got married post-haste.

Neither option was open to Catherine, however. Her boyfriend had left her, and she had given her passport to a private money lender as security for a high interest loan.

She had tried to persuade this lender to give it back to her so that she could fly home to the Philippines for a few months to give birth, but he had refused. She was late with repayments and he had lodged a court case against her for “bad cheques,” another criminal matter in Qatar.

“I have made some bad choices and took risks that were beyond what I could manage. I regret all that” she wrote. “I do not plan to run away from my obligations because If that was my plan I would have done it long way back. All I want is for my baby to be safe and not be taken away from me. I’m worried and I’m scared of that.”

I could see, even with the sparse details she had provided me with, that she was in dire straits.

I typed a response frantically, telling her that my (basic) knowledge of the Qatari legal system told me that she needed to get out of the country immediately, if she possibly could.

She and I both knew, however, that she was already beyond the safe limit for flying in pregnancy, and barring a miracle, all airlines would now refuse to carry her.

I also told her to pay her embassy a visit, and she promised she would do so the following day.


The next evening, I received an email update. She told me that her embassy had advised her that she could deliver her baby in Qatar, but that she would have difficulty obtaining a birth certificate for her child afterwards, as she was unmarried. They also told her that they could offer her accommodation if her employer sacked her after the birth.

Freestocks.org / Flickr
Freestocks.org / Flickr

She seemed optimistic after the meeting. “I hope and pray that all will be well” she said.

I was reassured by her email, and filed it at the back of my mind to follow up on after Christmas.
The festive season came and went. In January, I duly sent an email to Catherine asking how the birth had been, and how things were with her in general.

I received no response. At this stage, I wasn’t unduly worried. Her email about her visit to her embassy had been reassuring, and in my world – the world of the well off, professional European expat – these sort of things resolved themselves without too much drama.

It took some months before I had a sense of growing dread about Catherine’s case. By the summer, I realised she was never going to respond to my emails. I tried once more to get in touch, and receiving no response, I resolved to try to find out what had happened to her.

The problem was, I wasn’t even sure of her nationality. I’d originally assumed she was Singaporean, but the Singapore Embassy told me they’d never heard of her.

In jail

Next, I called the Philippines embassy. I was put through to several different people – and I gave a rambling explanation about Catherine to each – before I finally reached the vice-consul. I explained why I was calling, and in a calm voice – a voice which told me he said this stuff every day, to many people – he replied “ah yes, Catherine. Yes, she’s in prison here.”

The vice-consul confirmed that she had been arrested in hospital after the birth of her child, a son. He reassured me that mother and baby were together, and that he had visited her in jail several times. I asked if I could visit, but I was told that only family members or embassy officials were allowed to visit Qatar’s main jail.


After we’d established the facts, he invited me to the embassy to talk about the case, and it was as a result of this conversation that Doha News ran its first piece about ‘illegal birth’ in Qatar, an interview in August 2013 with another Filipina woman, who had given birth in secret, as she was also unmarried. We included a short quote from Catherine’s email in the story.

Catherine’s year-long jail sentence was due to end in December 2013, but the date passed, and I didn’t hear from her. I hoped that this meant that she had left Qatar and put everything behind her, her contact with me included.

In February 2014, however, I got another unexpected email.

This time, it was from a friend of Catherine’s, Maya. She told me that they’d been in jail together, and that Catherine had asked her to make contact with me so that she could ask me to visit her.

Despite having finished her sentence for ‘illegal birth’, Catherine was still incarcerated. The authorities had sent her and her son to the country’s deportation center for a while, before finally realising – after Catherine repeatedly urged them to check her files – that she had outstanding debt cases to answer in court.

A visit

I agreed to go to visit Catherine at the Capital Security building in central Doha, where prisoners awaiting trial are held.

Capital Security doesn’t look like a jail. It’s a large, modern complex with attractive architecture and mirrored windows, and it’s flanked by palm trees. There is no barbed wire – just a man in a booth who checks visitor IDs as they pass by.

Beyond here is a courtyard full of parked cars, and two flights of steps leading up to separate reception areas – one for men and one for women.

I was greeted by friendly female guards, who looked me up and down quizzically. Catherine’s friend was with me, and she took the lead. I was relieved about that, as I was nervous. I was visiting as a journalist rather than as a friend, and I didn’t know if the authorities would permit that if they knew.

My name and residence permit number were listed in the register, and I was asked to leave all of my belongings, including my notebook, with the guards. We were then asked to sit down briefly on the majlis style seating in the reception area before being ushered into a side room.

Here was a single row of plastic chairs, all facing segregated booths mounted on a counter, topped with inch-thick glass. There were grills beneath each window through which prisoners and visitors strained to communicate with each other.

Catherine came to sit down on the other side of the glass, cradling Adam. She was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and had her hair tied back neatly. Adam was more than a year old now, and walking. He was wearing a Hugo Boss t-shirt, a gift from the jail’s governor, and he was smiling broadly.

As we talked – a difficult task as the room filled up and visitors all began shouting into the grills, each struggling to be heard in the hubbub – Adam waved and made smeary hand trails across the glass.

The story I wrote after this meeting – with quotes from memory, hastily scribbled down after I’d left the jail – detailed her story thus far. Known in the piece by the alias “Mary,” I explained that she now faced a series of “cheque cases”, court cases due to unpaid debts. Some were for her loans, and others were for rent she had been unable to pay while in jail.

Somewhat incredibly, the authorities had not told her how many charges she was facing, so she had no idea how long her future jail term might be.

A friend was helping her gain access to her legal file so she could defend herself in court, but aside from that, she was on her own. Several scheduled court dates had already been cancelled, a symptom of Qatar’s incredibly congested legal system. She told me she hoped that the court might order her release so that she could work to pay off the debts, and so that Adam could grow up outside of jail.

As our meeting came to an end, Catherine signaled to security staff, asking them to bring her son to the other side of the divide.

They handed Adam to me beyond the security arch, through which we smiled and waved at his Mummy.

A bus in Doha. Jabiz Raisdana / Flickr
A bus in Doha. Jabiz Raisdana / Flickr

I took him through to the reception area, where we both looked out through the double doors at the car park outside and the road beyond.

“Dar,” he said, pointing to the cars parked outside. “Buuus” he said, delighted at the sight of a real bus.

I asked if I could take him for a walk outside, but the staff said it wasn’t allowed. Instead, Adam held his hand to the window, staring at the traffic passing by in the distance, eventually being persuaded to return to his mother inside.

Catherine asked me if I’d visit her again, and I agreed.

A return visit

I went back two months later. On the previous visit I’d asked what she needed, and she told me she was short of clothes, and that she loved to read, but had read most of the English language novels in the prison library.

I arrived loaded with shopping. A friend had bought her a selection of brand new children’s books and some novels, and I’d also bought toiletries for them both, as well as clothes and toddler snacks. The guards told me I would need to ask permission from the “Captain” – the policeman in charge of the jail – so I duly walked outside and entered through the men’s entrance on the other side.

The Captain’s office was on the left as we walked in. He was on the phone, but ushered us into his office and gesticulated at two chairs, separated by a table, upon which sat a box of tissues and some sweets.

Salem (MA) Public Library / Flickr
Salem (MA) Public Library / Flickr

When he ended his phone conversation, he asked us, in a pleasant but slightly exasperated way, why we were there. I garbled something about gifts for Catherine and her baby, and he nodded. He asked to see what was in my bag. I watched him take each item out and examine it. He opened the brand new box of children’s books and checked each book, presumably for drugs or some other contraband.

He initially refused the toddler snacks until I explained that they were for Adam. Then, with the same lack of ceremony with which we’d been received, he dispatched us back to the women’s section with his approval.

The female guards took the bag, and then we walked once again into the room with the plastic chairs and the glass screens. Catherine appeared, bearing the bag, and a huge smile. I watched as she removed each item from the bag, examining the books, the toiletries and the clothes in turn.

I’d given Adam some of my son’s old clothes, and she held them up to him to check the size. After a long chat about her legal situation – still no clearer than before – we prepared to say goodbye. This time, though, she had something for me – a little knitted pouch, along with a home-made envelope and note. Catherine had been learning to knit in jail.

Back to main jail

In July, I heard from her friend that she’d been sent back to the main jail to serve a sentence for debt. Neither she nor I knew what her real legal situation was. We kept in contact as Catherine tried to get her court documents translated.

Then that October, I had an email out of the blue from Catherine’s cousin, Kristina. She’d read the story Doha News had run and wanted to ask if I was writing about the same woman. She said Catherine had been calling her Mum every fortnight from Qatar, but that apart from that, the family had no idea how things were, or how to help her.

“We’re in a desperate situation, both Catherine and our family. Your article somehow gave us a glimpse of hope that we will be able to finally make progress with her case” she wrote.

She added that the family were trying to raise funds for a family member to fly to Qatar to try to help.

I confirmed that I was indeed writing about Catherine, and I told her I’d recently visited her. We exchanged further emails over the following months, trying to make sense of Catherine’s court appearances and sentences.

Time dragged on; my husband got a new job in the UK, and we left Qatar for good in April 2015. Despite my new surroundings, though, I hadn’t forgotten Catherine and Adam.

A surprise tweet

Then in late October 2015 – more than a year since I’d last seen Catherine, I received another unexpected message, this time via Twitter.

“Hello, it’s me :)” it said.

Catherine and Adam were out of jail in Doha. She’d been woken early that morning, unexpectedly, and told to pack their things.

The pair had initially been placed in the country’s deportation centre, but Catherine had complained that the overcrowded, unhealthy atmosphere was bad for Adam’s asthma, and the authorities had agreed. She was released into the care of distant family members in Doha, and aged nearly three, Adam now had his first taste of life beyond prison walls.

Adam in Doha after their release
Adam in Doha after their release

Catherine hoped she would be home in the Philippines by Christmas. Her father had died while she was in jail, and she hoped to be reunited with her mother as soon as possible.

It was not to be. It turned out – after a great amount of digging and multiple fruitless visits made by Catherine to various government offices – that she still had several civil debt cases hanging over her.

This meant a travel ban. She and Adam could not leave Qatar until they were resolved, and as she was supposed to have been deported, she couldn’t work either. She had no income and no way of paying back the loans.

I wrote another story for Doha News explaining her new predicament, and it was after this that I received an email from a lawyer who was interested in helping out. Kristen Johnson, then of law firm Squire Patton Boggs, successfully persuaded her colleagues to work pro bono on the case.

Travel bans lifted

Catherine and the SPB team met regularly and in April this year, she messaged me with great excitement. The Ministry of Interior had removed her travel bans – effectively forgiving the civil cases – and she and Adam were free to leave.

Catherine and Adam in the offices of law firm Squire Patton Boggs
Catherine and Adam in the offices of law firm Squire Patton Boggs

Thousands of miles away in London, I cracked open a bottle of wine and toasted their freedom.

Her family wasted no time in booking her flights, and on April 25th 2016, Catherine and Adam flew out of Doha’s Hamad International Airport bound for the Philippines.

When they walked out of arrivals in Manila, a whole crowd of Catherine’s family were there to meet them – cousins, aunts, her niece – and her mother, who she hadn’t seen in over four years.

Her return home is bitter-sweet, however. Her mother has kidney failure, and requires weekly dialysis.

“She looks okay though, but still it scares me,” Catherine told me after her return. “But I’m glad I am finally here with her and I want Adam to have memories with her and my family.”

Despite all this, she remains upbeat. She has plans to apply for an Australian work visa, and hopes to take Adam with her.

A life lesson

Adam, photographed after his return to the Philippines

What strikes me most about Catherine is her resilience and her lack of anger.

She told me that she initially felt anger towards Adam’s father for leaving them, but that she has forgiven him, and that she is now focusing on moving on. She says she has no anger towards the Qatari authorities, as she knew she was breaking the law, and she knew that there would be consequences.

Just after she was released, she told me that her ordeal had given her a new appreciation for life’s opportunities.

“Every single thing – every little thing that you can do today – do it, because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” she said.

I learned many valuable lessons during my years as an expat, but this particular lesson from Catherine is one that will stay with me forever.

After years in Qatar jail, Filipina mother and son finally head home

Catherine and Adam in the offices of law firm Squire Patton Boggs
Catherine and Adam in the offices of law firm Squire Patton Boggs

Earlier this week, a long and painful saga came to an end. Catherine and Adam – previously known by pseudonyms Mary and William in a series of  Doha News stories – were finally able to leave Qatar, more than three years after Catherine was first arrested in hospital for the crime of giving birth outside of wedlock.

I wrote a story for Doha News yesterday about how her departure came about; about the efforts of a legal team who, after reading about her plight in DN, fought for the lifting of her travel ban. The story has been shared more than four thousand times in 24 hours. Click here to read it.

A cautionary tale: Laid-off expats stuck in Qatar scramble to pay off debts

Kenneth Paton (left) and Tim Reeber
Kenneth Paton (left) and Tim Reeber

Earlier this week, I wrote an article for Doha News about the plight of two American paramedics who had been made redundant by Qatar’s Hamad Medical Corporation, but couldn’t leave the country as they had debts to pay. Even worse, they weren’t sure they’d be allowed to get another job to help pay them off. The possibility of jail – a normal punishment for unpaid debts in Qatar – beckoned.

If you’re an expat and you’re contemplating taking out a large loan in Qatar, read on… 

Filipina expat: Being jailed with baby in Qatar ‘blessing in disguise’

Mary's son, William
Mary’s son, William

Earlier this month, I wrote an update for Doha News about ‘Mary’, the Filipina expat jailed in Qatar for giving birth out of wedlock and her son, William. They both ended up spending a total of three years in jail together in Doha, and Mary gave me a very honest and insightful interview about life behind bars in Qatar.

The conversation we had about her arrest in her hospital room four days after her son’s birth will stay with me forever, I think.

Click here to read the story on Doha News, and here if you’d like to contribute to a family fund raising money for Mary to hire a lawyer.

‘I lost most of my savings’ – The cost of risky financial advice in Qatar

Images Money / Flickr
Images Money / Flickr

Last month, I spent several weeks researching and writing this story for Doha News about the financial advice industry in Qatar, and the bad experiences some investors have had with advisers in the region, both regulated and unregulated. It sparked a lot of interest, with many people sharing their experiences – both good and bad – in the comments section below.

Qatar Airways 777 sees ‘substantial’ damage after takeoff incident

Peter Russell / Flickr
Peter Russell / Flickr

Earlier this month, a Qatar Airways 777 hit the Approach Lighting System at Miami’s airport on take off, causing “substantial damage” to the aircraft. Despite this, the crew continued the flight as normal and the aircraft landed safely in Doha. Significant damage to the aircraft’s belly was discovered by ground crew afterwards, and the accident was reported to the USA’s FAA, which is investigating.

My resulting story for Doha News was incredibly popular. Click here to read it.

(Although I’ve now left Qatar, I’m still working for Doha News as Editor-at-Large, which means I’m still contributing stories, particularly those in which I have a special interest.)

The green grass of home: Five things I’ve noticed since moving back to Britain


We’ve now been back in the UK for just over two months, and I’ve written my final post for Telegraph Expat. In this one, I list five things I’ve noticed since my return to Britain.

It’s been a huge pleasure to write for the Telegraph, but as I’m no longer an expat, I’m heading onto pastures new. Exciting challenges await.

Edited, September 2016: As the Telegraph has now deleted its expat blogs section, here is the piece in full:


We’ve now been back in the UK for two months. When we were still living in Qatar, I often speculated about how we’d feel by this point. I suggested that life might feel a little dull after so many adventures, both good and bad, over the past six years; a little monochrome rather than technicolour. I also wondered whether our country would feel alien to us after so many years away, and whether I’d feel lonely, starting again in a new place with no supportive network of expat friends to fall back on.

It turns out I was wrong on all counts. Granted, moving continents with two children in tow and establishing said family in a new (unfurnished) house, a new school (little lad) and a new job (big lad) in just a couple of weeks had its moments (I never want to see an Allen key again), but we are loving being home.

The UK doesn’t feel alien at all, although it does feel a little like we’ve missed a couple of episodes of a long-running TV series; Austerity Britain part 1 and 2 have been shown already, but we’ve still got several episodes left to run, so I guess we’ll catch up in the end.

And my worries about loneliness were pretty much swept away on the first morning of my son’s new school when lots of his classmates’ parents introduced themselves, handed me kids’ party invites and invited me round for coffee. Similarly, lots of old friends got in touch and I’ve been gradually reconnecting with them.

Settling back in easily, however, does not mean I’ve been oblivious to the enormous change our daily life has just undergone. Here are just some of the differences I’ve noticed.

Multifaceted weather

Only in the UK can you experience several different seasons in a day. Yesterday, for example, it started off really chilly, then it rained, and then it was warm and sunny. A few days ago, we had hail, in June. (It was the first time my son had seen it. He picked pieces up and was distressed when it melted.)

Coming from a country with just two seasons – winter and summer – I’d forgotten the unique challenge of dressing for British weather. I am the mother at the school gates who consistently dresses both herself and her children wrongly. Baking hot but wearing a jumper, jeans and boots? Pouring with rain, and then discovering that neither child actually owns a raincoat? Yes, that’s me.

I am also the crazy woman who stands outside in the rain, inhaling deeply. This phenomena also occurs when someone nearby is mowing a lawn.

Fresh fruit and veg

One of the first things I did when I got home was to buy some English strawberries. To a palate accustomed to air-freighted fruit with an eye-popping air mile history, they were astonishingly lovely. Then I indulged in Jersey Royal potatoes, which were such a joy after the tasteless Saudi-grown variety we used to buy.

Granted, it was possible to buy good quality produce in Qatar, but it was hugely expensive, and not an everyday option. So since coming home, I’ve experienced the reverse of the “Doha stone”, the common weight-gain many experience when settling into expat life there.

Instead of dining out all of the time (a pretty cheap option in Doha) I’m now indulging in, and craving, fresh fruit and vegetables. My body is thanking me.

And then of course there’s the joy of getting it all delivered via online supermarket shopping, something many British expats crave in Doha. I’m fairly certain my five year old does not miss being dragged about Lulu once a week, consistently being refused chocolate.


Private healthcare in Qatar was a double edged sword. It was pretty easy to access – you could just walk up to a receptionist and request an appointment with a GP, or even a specialist – but its quality was incredibly patchy, and I always had the niggling suspicion that treatments and medication were being prescribed for profit reasons rather than because I actually needed them.

The UK’s cash-strapped NHS by contrast has a very tight fist, and I recently had to fight to continue to be given a medication I’ve been on since I was 21. I’ve also had to re-adjust to dealing with pharmacists who adhere to incredibly tight regulations on what they can and can’t sell over the counter; my days of buying the contraceptive pill without prescription are definitely over, although given the benefits of medical oversight in this regard, I’m rather glad.

One huge negative I’ve spotted since coming home, however, is dentistry. How on earth does anyone get their teeth done in this country without going into debt? We’ve actually registered with a local NHS dentist to try to get care at a decent price, but the first date they can give us is in August. I made the appointment in May.

Lush greenery

This is a predictable one, of course, but it’s been so significant a change for us that it warrants a mention. Before moving to Qatar, I’d never have stopped to marvel at an enormous oak tree, or the blossom on a cherry tree, or the curve of a meandering river, or the freshly-mown stripes on a lawn. My son did a football course over half-term in the tree-lined playing fields of a local primary school. Sitting down in the sunshine waiting for him to finish, I shed a little tear.

Living in the desert for six years has truly made me appreciate the wonders of nature. Hell, I even love it enough to want to don my dusty trainers and go running outdoors for the first time in years, so it must be good.

The cost. Oh, the cost.

Moving back to the UK from Qatar is rarely going to be financially beneficial. It was a lifestyle decision for us, and we were prepared for a squeeze on our finances.

Having said that, it’s still a shock the first time something breaks down and you realise that instead of the cosy expat renter’s solution of simply calling maintenance, you have to pay for the fix, and ooh, it’s gonna cost yer. It will also, it turns out, take at least a week for the engineer to turn up.

Then there are cars. Our time in Qatar means we have no no-claims bonus, and this year’s insurance has been painful.

Having said that, while doing the maths when buying our new car, we’ve realised that the cheap fuel in Qatar wasn’t such a steal after all. Our gas-guzzling Ford Explorer in Qatar might have cost us a tenner to fill, around a quarter of our fill-ups in the UK, but it was actually four times less efficient than our new car.

Mind you, our Golf is, err, somewhat smaller, but this bit of maths magic does make us feel a bit better when we’re averting our eyes at the petrol pumps.

Some thoughts on filming in Qatar

The recent arrest and detention of a BBC film crew and local fixer in Qatar gave me a bit of a jolt. As a freelance journalist in Qatar, I’d ‘fixed’ – acted as a local producer, setting up interviews and suggesting locations – for several international news organisations. Had I still been living in Qatar, that could have been me spending an uncomfortable and frightening night in a Qatari jail.

After the news broke, I was asked on Twitter whether I was surprised by the news. Of course I wasn’t. Qatar has form on this in very recent memory. Earlier this month, for example, German journalist Florian Bauer found himself staring at bars after a thwarted filming visit to Doha’s industrial area, home to many of the country’s labourers.

The Qatari authorities explained that they’d arrested Bauer because he had no filming permit. Meanwhile, they also accused BBC journalist Mark Lobel of “trespassing on private property and running afoul of Qatari laws.” Lobel said that the Public Prosecutor had told him he’d been violating the terms of the tourist visa he’d entered the country on – i.e, that he had no official permit to be carrying out journalism in Qatar. This accusation came despite the fact that he had been invited into the country by the government to report on new accommodation for labourers, and, as he pointed out, there was no other visa he could get.

Permit rules

There’s been much confusion about this issue,so I thought it might be useful to lay out the rules for the granting of such permits in Qatar.

All foreign media organisations wishing to film in Qatar (but not those coming to make radio or print-only reports) must apply for a permit. They can travel to Qatar on a tourist visa, the number of which they must submit if they need to apply for one in advance. The application for a filming permit must be done at least 15 days in advance (so no spontaneous visits are possible) and the online application form asks for the correspondent’s main topic, details and serial numbers of all camera equipment, passport numbers and a list of filming locations.

In my experience, this list needs to be as specific and inclusive as possible, as once the crew arrive it’s too late to add anything to it. This means that it’s impossible to grow a story naturally, to decide, say, that you want to head to a public beach to interview someone you’ve just met, or to film in the souq to add some colour. In reality, of course, crews will generally chance filming in an unauthorised area and usually get away with it, but if police or security guards are nearby (and believe me, they’re always nearby in Qatar) then they’ll find themselves in trouble.

Permit refusal

Why, then, did Bauer and Lobel and their crews not have permits? For his part, Bauer claims that he tried to get one for more than five weeks, having been successful in obtaining one in the past. However, he received no response to his application from the Qatar News Agency (who handle applications) despite also contacting the German Embassy and Qatar’s Human Rights Committee to chase it up, so, as he told the Telegraph, he concluded “that they didn’t want to give us one.”

Meanwhile, Lobel had been invited into Qatar by the Ministry of Labour to visit new accommodation for labourers. As part of a fully endorsed media tour, he’d had to submit his passport number, but was allowed to enter the country on his UK passport, which allows for visa on arrival. It turns out that government officials tailed him from his entry into the country, so they were entirely aware that they had a journalist in their midst. It seems, however, that they didn’t require him to have a filming permit, as long as he was filming what they wanted him to film.

“The problems that the BBC reporter and his crew experienced could have been avoided if they had chosen to join the other journalists on the press tour,” Saif Al-Thani, the head of Government Communications Office, said in a statement.

Inevitably for a journalist belonging to a media organisation which prides itself on its independence, Lobel decided to chase the story himself, rather than being directed by the country’s expensive PR machine. It was during this trip to the industrial area to speak to labourers in accommodation that hadn’t been hand-picked for viewing that the car he was travelling in was pulled over by eight unmarked white cars. Thirty-six hours of detention ensued.

Several of my Qatari followers have remarked that Lobel would have been fine if he’d simply applied for a permit. Others have commented that he’d obviously trespassed on private property, so his arrest was to be expected.

Taking Bauer’s experience into account, one has to ask whether it is likely that Lobel would have been granted a permit to film had he been entirely honest about where he wanted to film. We will never know. Similarly, it’s incredibly difficult to get an accurate picture of what actually constitutes trespass in Qatar. I can find no explanation of it in the country’s legal portal Al Meezan. If, for example, a tenant invites you in, are you still trespassing if the landowner doesn’t know you’re there? If you follow the logic and think that that is the case, does that mean that everyone in rented accommodation in Qatar is not allowed to have visitors unless they’ve sought permission first?

Local restrictions

It’s worth noting though that Qatar’s tight restrictions on filming are not limited to foreign media organisations. Journalism students at Qatar Foundation are required to seek permission for filming on their own campus, for example, and large complexes like Katara also require local journalists to obtain permission to film, as do large malls like Villaggio.

Some would argue that Qatar’s obsession with filming permits is simply a part of its culture, that such a devout Muslim country obviously values its privacy . Others, however, would suggest that it’s the exact opposite – that it’s a serious emphasis on its public image that motivates this need to control the image the wider world sees.

It’s interesting to note that the Qatar News Agency’s Foreign Media team, who are responsible for processing film permit applications, state that one of their key goals is “to defend and encourage freedom of expression.”

It will be intriguing to see how this goal plays out in the months and years to come as Qatar comes under even more intense scrutiny in the run up to 2022.