Human Rights Group Urges FIFA to Bar Bahraini From Running for President

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From left, vice-president Angel Maria Villar Llona, acting president Issa Hayatou and acting secretary general Markus Kattner at FIFA's executive committee meeting in Zurich, Oct. 20, 2015.Credit: AFP

An American human rights group is lobbying FIFA to bar the president of the Asian Football Confederation from running for president of the global soccer body in February, even before he has submitted his candidacy.

The Guardian reported Tuesday that Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain sent a letter to acting FIFA president Issa Hayatouto to preempt the candidacy of Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa because he took part in a crackdown against pro-democracy athletes in Bahrain in 2011.

According to The Guardian, al-Khalifa was part of a committee that identified athletes who participated in pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011, who were subsequently imprisoned and tortured.

“In 2013, our organization wrote to FIFA president, Mr. Joseph Blatter, expressing our deep concern over allegations of unethical behavior conducted by FIFA committee member and president of the Asian Football Confederation, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa," the Husain Abulla, executive director of the human rights group, stated.

"Sheikh al-Khalifa is a member of the Bahraini royal family and previously served as president of the Bahrain Football Association (BFA),” he explained in the letter, a copy of which the Guardian obtained. “As we explained in our previous communications, there is credible evidence that Sheikh al-Khalifa aided and abetted crimes against humanity while he was president of the BFA. In light of news that Sheikh al-Khalifa is seeking election as president of FIFA, we write now to urge you to terminate Sheikh al-Khalifa’s candidacy for this position in the emergency meeting of the FIFA executive committee.”

The human rights group asserted that al-Khalifa was part of a committee established by the Bahraini government through the country's Olympic committee to punish some 150 athletes who had been part of the pro-democracy protests, The Guardian reported. Al-Khalifa allegedly identified athletes in photographs of demonstrators, and security forces "used this information to arrest, detain, torture, and publicly defame these athletes,” according to the human rights group. While most of the players were released after FIFA launched an investigation in 2013, prompting the soccer body to drop its inquiry, some athletes remain in detention and others have been suspended by their clubs, the human rights group wrote.

Al-Khalifa has yet to submit his formal candidacy, and even criticized the English media for suggesting that he was about to stand for election.

The FIFA executive committee decided in a meeting Tuesday not to postpone its February 26 election to replace the ousted Sepp Blatter. Candidates have to declare formally by October 26, and al-Khalifa is believed to have support from across the world, according to The Guardian.

Al-Khalifa in 2013 asserted there wasn't any proof of his alleged involvement in the crackdown.

The Asian Football Confederation and al-Khalifa did not respond to requests for comment by The Guardian.

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