Bahrain monarchy must stop pursuing soccer player
The Bahraini authorities must end their pursuit of soccer (football) player Hakeem al-Araibi if they wish to attain the highest seat in the FIFA, the governing body of world soccer.
The Melbourne-based athlete was detained by the Thai authorities in November on an Interpol warrant issued by his country of birth, despite the fact that he was granted asylum by Australia in 2017.
Araibi’s problems in his home country began in 2011, when he joined the majority of his countrymen in demanding democracy and social justice.
The monarchy of the Gulf archipelago reacted by making the prominent soccer player one of its targets for repression.
He was arbitrarily arrested in 2012 as he entered a cafe to watch a match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Araibi was accused of attacking a police station, but he had been playing a match at the time of the alleged incident, and he could prove it because it was broadcast live on national television.
Araibi was subjected to torture for 45 days in jail and threatened with being banned from playing soccer permanently.
Then he was released. Before a new court order for his imprisonment could be enforced, Araibi fled to Australia to seek asylum.
Many outside Bahrain may wonder: Why would Bahrain’s security authorities pursue professional athletes?
To answer this question, we must know that when half the populace are described as traitors, there is no difference between a doctor or an athlete; a teacher or a human rights activist; a trade unionist or a journalist.
After the declaration of the state of emergency in Bahrain in 2011, people of all professions and ages became subject to security
prosecution, extrajudicial killings, torture, and defamation in the media.
In 2011, three Bahraini international players were arbitrarily arrested at a stadium while exercising and subjected to severe torture
In 2011, three Bahraini international players were arbitrarily arrested at a stadium while exercising and subjected to severe torture.
Arbitrary arrests and torture campaigns in Bahrain have affected athletes in the sports of soccer, basketball, volleyball, handball, gymnastics, jujitsu and motorsports.
Since 2011, arbitrary arrests have targeted sports journalists such as
Faisal Hayat, who was a victim of torture, as well as the presidents of fan club associations such as al-Ahli Club and al-Ettifaq Club.
In 2011, an episode of Ma al-Hadath on Bahrain TV was dedicated to
defaming dissident athletes and encouraging the authorities to arrest and torture them. Athletes’ photos were published with circles drawn around their heads.
It was not considered strange that Mohammad bin Ali Al Khalifa, the judge in Araibi’s case and a member of the royal family, refused to take into consideration video evidence of the athlete’s innocence.
The judge was himself involved in the issuance of dozens of arbitrary sentences against Bahraini prisoners of conscience. Those sentences included revoking the nationalities of 57 Bahraini citizens for political reasons, upholding the death sentence against torture victim Maher al-Khabaz, and sentencing the leader of the Bahraini opposition, Sheikh Ali Salman, to nine years in prison in a case that was condemned by the international human rights community.
The same judge continued to push for the pursuit of Araibi in exile.
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, established in June 2011 by royal decree, documented 60 alleged cases of torture or mistreatment in the kingdom. Human Rights Watch documented further abuses in its report, “The Blood of People Who Don’t Cooperate,” published in November 2015. Amnesty International published a report in September 2017 titled, “No one can protect you: Bahrain’s year of crushing dissent.”
Thousands of Bahrainis have been arbitrarily detained since 2011, and there are still more than 4,000 prisoners in Bahrain, a country whose indigenous population is approximately half a million people.
When it comes to the percentage of its people in prison, Bahrain ranks number one in the Middle East, according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research.
Hakeem al-Araibi earned the ire of the monarchy when he publicly opposed Bahrain’s bid for the FIFA presidency in 2016.
Araibi spoke of the torture his colleagues were subjected to after 2011, putting royal family member Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa’s chances in jeopardy.
In the end, Khalifa did not gain the presidency.
Now, the ongoing detention of Araibi in Thailand threatens to cause new discomfort for the Bahraini authorities, specifically Khalifa, the current Asian Football Confederation president who has kept his eyes on the FIFA presidency.
Khalifa has been president of the Bahrain Football Association since March 2002 and is a key member of the state apparatus.
In 2011, when the country was facing an uprising, Khalifa was appointed by the king’s son to investigate “irregularities of some members of the sports community during the political circumstances witnessed by the kingdom.” The establishment of this committee was followed by the commission of horrible violations against more than 150 Bahraini athletes.
FIFA has never published the contents of integrity checks that were conducted on candidates, including Khalifa, who ran for its presidency in 2016. However, they may reveal some of the abuses committed against athletes in Bahrain under his watch.
Co-author Yahya al-Hadid is president of the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.