Several Bahraini soccer players, including stars of the country’s national team, were detained and tortured after participating in a protest against Bahrain’s ruling Al-Khalifa family in March. The Australian Times via the Times of London reports that Mohammed Hubail has been sentenced to two years in prison, while his brother, striker Alaa Hubail and goalkeeper Ali Saeed have been charged with criminal acts.
Photos of the Hubail brothers on the soccer field and after their detention can be seen at the Los Angeles Times.
The three are out on bail and now home in a Shiite village outside of the capital of Manama; they do not know if they will be able to play soccer again. They have been warned not to speak about their detainment for fear of further abuse– both Hubail brothers have their heads shaved, and Mohammed Hubail has bruises on his feet, says the Australian Times/London Times — but one unnamed relatives says:
“The first two weeks after they were arrested were the worst. They were beaten all the time. They still have marks on their bodies.”
When the brothers appeared in court, military police officers on duty went up to shake their hands, some asking for autographs.
“But the men who were beating them were not Bahraini. They didn’t care who they were,” said a friend of the players. “These men are loved by the people, Sunni and Shia. You are British: imagine David Beckham gets arrested and tortured. It’s unthinkable.”
The three players were also reportedly subjected to lengthy interrogations and ritual humiliation, says Al-Arabiya.
More than 150 athletes, referees and officials have been detained since March when the Bahraini king called in troops from Saudi Arabia and implemented martial law until June. At least 32 protesters were killed and hundreds more detained including human rights activists, doctors and nurses and a 20-year-old poet. Two protesters have been sentenced to death and eight to life in prison; the doctors and nurses have been charged with the equivalent of treason for giving medical assistance to injured protesters.
Bahrain Olympic Committee secretary-general Sheik Ahmed bin Hamad al-Khalifa has said that:
There seems to be a view that footballers or doctors are above the law. If there is a case against them, it does not matter who they are or what their profession is.
But not only Bahraini citizens who are athletes have been detained. Also according to USA Today, Zulfiqar Naji, a 16-year-old Iraqi player on the junior team for Bahraini club Al Muharraq, has been detained since April by the Bahraini government on suspicion of participating in the anti-democracy protests. The player’s father, Abdulameer Naji, is a soccer coach and denies that his son participated in the protests, says Al-Arabiya:
“He is far removed from politics,” Mr. Naji said. He said his son was not involved in politics and only interested in music and football.
“I have asked the club to intervene but they have not done much. I do not understand what is happening because I thought I had a good relationship with Bahrain,” Mr. Naji said.
Mr. Naji Sr. played with Iraq’s Al-Zawra club from 1978 to 1990 before coaching various Bahraini teams, including Al-Mouharrak, Al-Itifaq, Al-Ittihad and Al-Badiyah.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has himself asked Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled Bin Ahmed for an explanation about the 16-year-old’s detention. Relations between Bahrain and Iraq have declined since the protests, says Al-Arabiya, with Bahrain and the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council saying that the protests were “instigated by Shiite Iran in a bid to destabilize the island and sow sectarian discord.”
The soccer players’ reports of torture contradict what the Bahraini Football Association (BFA) told FIFA, the governing body for international soccer, as USA Today says. FIFA said it had been given “assurances that national team players haven’t been disciplined during political turmoil in the Gulf kingdom.” Bahrain had given the assurances in response to a request from FIFA about whether the Bahraini government had “interfered politically in the sport,” says Al-Arabiya.
But if FIFA concludes that Bahrain had “intervened for political reasons in the Gulf island’s soccer,” Bahrain could be suspended and its participation in the next round of the Asian Olympic qualifiers in September potentially jeopardized. Further, a FIFA investigation could adversely affect the chances of Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of the Bahraini royal family, from becoming the president of the powerful Asian Football Confederation (AFC), succeeding Qatari national Mohamed Bin Hammam who is currently caught in a bribery scandal.
Below is a video of Alaa Hubail making the winning goal in Bahrain’s 1-0 defeat over Japan in the 2010 World Cup. Let’s hope he, his brother and Saeed and can play again.
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Photo: Screenshot from YouTube video