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Guardian: Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa Nominated for FIFA Presidency amid Claims of his Involvement in Suppression of Bahrain Athletes

2015-10-20 - 6:48 p

Bahrain Mirror: The Guardian posted an article by journalist Owen Gibson in which he highlighted the involvement of the Bahraini Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the Asian Football Confederation president, in the crackdown on anti-government protests in Bahrain, following news of his nomination for the FIFA presidency.

In his article entitled "Fifa candidate Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa is linked to Bahrain crackdown," Gibson pointed out how human rights organisations reacted with alarm to the Bahraini royal Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa becoming the new favourite to succeed Sepp Blatter as Fifa president, citing his family's role in the brutal suppression of the country's pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011.


Gibson stated that human rights organisations have reacted furiously, "resurrecting claims that Sheikh Salman was involved in identifying athletes involved in pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011, some of whom were then allegedly imprisoned and tortured."

Gibson then quoted Nicholas McGeehan, the Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, who said: "Since the peaceful anti-government protests of 2011, which the authorities responded to with brutal and lethal force, the al-Khalifa family have overseen a campaign of torture and mass incarceration that has decimated Bahrain's pro-democracy movement."

"Sheikh Salman, the Asian Football Confederation president, is expected to announce his candidature early next week after agreeing to fill the void created by the suspension of the Uefa president, Michel Platini, over an alleged "disloyal payment" from Blatter, who has also been suspended by world football's governing body," Gibson added.

"Sheikh Salman, who has always denied those allegations, will be presented as a "clean skin" candidate, having been elected to the Fifa executive committee only in 2013 and so not tarnished by the decades of allegations of corruption and malpractice that have built up at its door," he further stated.

"Sheikh Salman is believed to have already secured expressions of support from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America," said Gibson.

However, Gibson explained that "he will have to deal with renewed interest in allegations surrounding his role in the brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests in the country in 2011, for which the ruling al-Khalifa regime was widely criticised."

He also pointed out that "The Guardian has seen a letter from the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy in which it called on Michael Garcia, then head of the investigatory unit of the Fifa ethics committee, to investigate Sheikh Salman's role in "systematically targeting and mistreating athletes who have taken part in anti-government protests."

"Associated Press reported in 2011 that more than 150 athletes, coaches and referees were jailed after a special committee, which it said was chaired by Sheikh Salman who was then head of the Bahrain Football Association, identified them from photos of protests," he said, adding that "The BIRD claimed that in doing so he had broken Fifa's Code of Ethics. But Garcia wrote back in January 2014 to say that the claims made by BIRD were outside the investigatory chamber's jurisdiction."

But in response, "BIRD pointed to a string of Fifa decisions in which it had opened proceedings against national associations because of government interference."

"Fifa has a statutory duty to protect the integrity and reputation of football in Bahrain," it added, but again Garcia refused to open an investigation.

"In attempting to get rid of its corruption crisis Fifa is now set to replace one allegedly corrupt official with another," said Sayed Al Wadaei, director of advocacy at BIRD, stressing that "Salman is accused of involvement in a campaign of abuse against athletes in Bahrain, something Fifa is aware of and has refused to investigate. Salman's appointment would be absurd."

Gibson further highlighted Salman's reaction to the accusations and said: "After his election as AFC president in May 2013 Sheikh Salman said there was no proof that he was involved in identifying protesters. ‘I just have one question: You talk about allegations but the question is, do you have the proof?' he said."

"Somebody talks about the government, I don't think this is our business in football. If anybody has the proof that the Bahrain Football Association has violated the statutes of Fifa or AFC, then present it. Otherwise we move on," Salman added.

Gibson said that among those footballers seized were the country's record goalscorer Alaa Hubail and his brother Mohammed Hubail, and that along with other players, they were barred from playing for their clubs and the national team.

Gibson then concluded his article by stating that the AFC and Sheikh Salman's office did not respond to requests for comment, adding that Salman is expected to travel to Zurich on Monday before Tuesday's emergency Fifa executive committee meeting, chaired by the interim Fifa president, Issa Hayatou, in the absence of the suspended Blatter.

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