Bahraini footballer accuses Sheikh Salman of knowing about torture

Bahraini footballer accuses Sheikh Salman of knowing about torture
A Bahraini footballer has accused FIFA presidential candidate Sheikh Salman of knowing about the torture of players in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising.
3 min read
25 February, 2016
Sheikh Salman is the frontrunner is the FIFA presidency race [AFP]

A former player in Bahrain's national football squad has claimed in a German documentary that FIFA presidential candidate Sheikh Salman is lying about his knowledge of players being tortured.

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa is the front-runner to replace disgraced Sepp Blatter as president of world football's governing body in Friday's vote in Zurich.

The 50-year-old is a senior member of the Bahraini royal family and has substantial support in the football world to assume the position.

But human rights groups have accused him of being involved in the arrest and torture of Bahraini footballers involved in the 2011 uprising, during his time as head of the Bahrain Football Association.

Sheikh Salman says the accusations against him are "false, nasty lies" and has signed a pledge to end rights abuses and corruption in sport.

But ex-Bahrain international Hakeem al-Oraibi claims Sheikh Salman headed a committee which persecuted him and his team-mates, amongst others, for their part in the 2011 protests and must have known that they were tortured.

The central defender, who now plays for Australian second division side Green Gully SC in Melbourne, was arrested in November 2012 while walking to a cafe in Bahrain to watch a Real Madrid-Barcelona game.

"They spent three hours hitting me hard on my legs, while saying: 'we will break your bones, we will destroy your future, you will never play football again with these legs'," he told German broadcaster ARD.

If you are not going to take care of your own players and if you are not going to stick up for them, that in itself is a problem.
Prince Ali of Jordan

The footballer fled his home country and is seeking political asylum in Australia, but a court in Bahrain sentenced him to ten years in jail in his absence.

He says he was accused of attacking a police station at a time when he was playing in a televised match.

He insists Sheikh Salman knew about the beatings both he and his team-mates received.

The German documentary makers claim Bahrain's state press agency, BNA, put out three separate reports confirming Sheikh Salman was the head of the investigation committee, tasked with finding those who took part in the protests.

Sheikh Salman's lawyers, based in London, denied the committee ever existed when confronted by ARD.

"Sheikh Salman was responsible for the football players, for the national team - how can it be that he didn't know anything about it?" said al-Oraibi.

"I am an example of it, and I have evidence. What Sheikh Salman claims, is a big lie."

Earlier this month, Prince Ali of Jordan, another FIFA presidential contender, questioned Sheikh Salman's human rights record when he was head of the Bahraini FA.

"If a candidate was in a position before and simply says that, 'Those issues are to do with politics and therefore I cannot interfere?' No," the prince said in reference to Sheikh Salman's defence that political affairs are not the concern of sports leaders.

"If you are not going to take care of your own players and if you are not going to stick up for them, that in itself is a problem."

The 2011 uprising was mostly led by Bahrain's majority Shia, as they sought more political rights in the Sunni-ruled country, home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

Bahrain's opposition is demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.

At least 89 people have been killed in clashes with security forces since 2011, while hundreds have been arrested and put on trial, rights groups say.