BAHRAIN: After rounding up activists, doctors, authorities now target soccer stars

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First they came for the street activists and opposition leaders. Then they rounded up medical doctors whom they suspected sympathized with protesters.

Now they allegedly torture their sports stars.

Bahraini authorities appear to leave no stone -- or soccer field for that matter -- unturned in their sectarian campaign against the Shiite political opposition and those suspected of siding with it.

According to a report published in the Australian Saturday via the Times of London, several Bahraini soccer players including stars of the country’s national team, were tortured while held in detainment after their arrest by security forces for participating in a protest against Bahrain’s ruling Al-Khalifa family in March.

They include striker Alaa Hubail and his brother Mohammed as well as goalkeeper Ali Saeed -- all three members of the Bahrain’s national soccer team.


Mohammed Hubail was reportedly sentenced to two years in jail in June for his participation in the anti-government protest but is currently out on bail along with his brother Alaa and Saeed whom government officials say have been charged with committing criminal acts, according to the article.

When a reporter met with the players in their Shiite village near the Bahraini capital Manama, they said they didn’t know whether they would be allowed to play soccer again. The Hubail brothers sported shaved heads and Mohammed had clear bruises on his feet.

Friends and relatives of the players told the Australian/the Times that the men had been warned to not speak publicly about their time in detainment and how they were treated there, but recounted what they knew of the players’ sejour in jail.

‘The first two weeks after they were arrested were the worst,’ one unnamed relative was quoted as saying. ‘They were beaten all the time. They still have marks on their bodies.’

The testimonies sharply contradicted what the Bahraini Football Assn. (BFA) recently told FIFA, international soccer’s governing body. It assured concerned FIFA executives that none of its players had been suspended or subject to mistreatment.

According to recent media reports, FIFA said BFA had replied and ‘confirmed that it had not suspended or sanctioned any athlete.’

More than 150 athletes, coaches and referees have reportedly been suspended since the Bahraini authorities implemented martial law in the country in March in a bid to quash a Shiite-led protest movement against the island nation’s dynastic Sunni rulers.

The media claims about the Bahraini soccer champions being tortured in custody come only days after U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch published a comprehensive report of its research on the ground in Bahrain since pro-democracy protests broke out in February.

The report, titled ‘Bahrain’s Human Rights Crisis,’ paints a rather dark picture of current human rights conditions in Bahrain. It says the group’s researchers found ‘widespread arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detention, torture, and unfair military court trials, as well as summary dismissals of workers accused of sympathizing with the protests,’ a crackdown it claims was ignored by the West.

‘Bahrain has brutally punished those protesting peacefully for greater freedom and accountability while the U.S. and other allies looked the other way,’ said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW in a news release.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Top photo: Bahraini soccer player Alaa Hubail, left, was arrested in March for taking part in anti-government protests. Credit: BlogHer website.