Arrest of British Qatar supporter emblematic of UAE intolerance: HRW
Ali Issa Ahmad was arrested by UAE security forces in Abu Dhabi after the second-round match between Qatar and Iraq on 22 January because he wore a Qatar team jersey, according to a Tuesday report by British newspaper The Guardian, citing a friend of the detained football fan.
“It’s beyond ludicrous that the UAE has arrested this young British man merely because he work a Qatar soccer jersey; it would be laughable it if weren’t for the fact that this detention is emblematic of the UAE’s intolerance for any expression of opinion they don’t like, including cheering for a Qatari team, and the real life persecution of Emirati dissidents who have expressed political opinions,” director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson told The New Arab.
The UAE, which hosted the football tournament, is one of four Arab countries boycotting Doha over political differences.
The country has outlawed all "expression of sympathy" for Qatar and those convicted of the offense can face up to 15 years in prison.
"He just went to watch a football match while he was on holiday in UAE and says he was arrested and beaten after being accused of wearing a football shirt which promoted Qatar," Ahmad's friend told the newspaper.
"It seems that he was released after being detained, assaulted by the security men in the car and accused of promoting Qatar. He went to the police station to report the assault and was accused of telling lies about the incident,"
"We're not clear about exactly what happened next but he has been held because he is accused of making false allegations against UAE security officials," he added.
On Wednesday, the UAE confirmed it had detained a British man but denied reports that this was because he showed support for Qatar. The UAE Embassy in London instead claimed in a statement he had been charged for "making false assault claims to police".
The UAE Embassy claimed the 26-year-old, who also holds a Sudanese citizenship, complained to a police station in the UAE emirate of Sharjah about what he said was harassment and assault by supporters of the UAE national side at the tournament.
“The police took him to hospital where a doctor who examined him concluded that his injuries were inconsistent with his account of events and appeared to be self-inflicted,” said the statement.
It claimed Ahmad had later admitted to making false statements and wasting police time after being charged on Jan. 24 and "will now be processed through UAE courts".
It was not immediately clear what punishment Ahmed could face if found guilty.
The British Foreign Office said that it is providing assistance to a British man arrested in the UAE.
The Qatari team defied all the odds to win the tournament last week, despite abuse from UAE fans and none of its fans being allowed to attend their games because of the blockade.
UAE authorities even attempted to have the team disqualified after they trashed the homeside 4-0 in the semi-finals in a game that saw shoes and bottles thrown at the Qatar players.
A small group of Omani fans had supported the Maroons throughout the tournament, but there have been no reports that any of them were arrested.
The report is the latest to reveal abuses in the Gulf state, which rights groups have long accused of carrying out systematic human rights violations.
A British man convicted in the UAE for spying last month said he was tortured before he was pardoned following pressure from the British government.
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