A former Bahrain international has claimed in a German documentary that FIFA presidential candidate Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa is lying about his knowledge of players being tortured in the Middle Eastern state.
Sheikh Salman is the front-runner to replace disgraced Sepp Blatter as president of world soccer’s governing body in today’s vote in Zurich, Switzerland.
The 50-year-old is a senior member of the Bahrain royal family and has substantial support amongst soccer’s power brokers, but human rights groups have accused him of being involved in the arrest and torture of soccer players involved in the 2011 civil protests when he was head of the Bahrain Football Association.
Sheikh Salman says the accusations against him are “false, nasty lies” and has signed a pledge to end human rights abuses and corruption in sport, but former Bahrain international Hakeem al-Oraibi claims Sheikh Salman headed a committee which persecuted him and his teammates, among 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-tier side Green Gully in Melbourne, described what happened after his arrest.
“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 WDR program Sport Inside.
The player fled his home country and is seeking political asylum in Australia, but a court in Bahrain sentenced him to 10 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 teammates suffered.
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 the WDR program.
“Sheikh Salman was responsible for the football players, for the national team — how can it be that he didn’t know anything about it?” al-Oraibi said. “I am an example of it and I have evidence. What Sheikh Salman claims is a big lie.”
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