Bahrain: Arrest, military trials, & suspension from sport activities, for athletes who practice their legitimate rights
Discrimination against athletes based on their political positions, directed by royal family members who control decision making in sport organizations.
03 July 2011.
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights expresses its deep concerns regarding the campaign of repression practiced by the Bahraini authorities against Bahraini athletes in line with its retributive acts and arbitrary sanctions against the citizens whom the Bahraini authorities believe have participated or supported the peaceful protests in the previous months of February and March. More than 150 athletes where targeted in the previous months with arrest, military trials, prison sentences, as well as suspension from sport activities due to practicing their legitimate right to peaceful assembly and expressing their opinion through peaceful protests that demanded political reforms. This campaign started after forming an investigation committee with direct orders from Naser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa - the king’s son - the head of the Higher Council for Youth and Sports (appointed by a royal order)  and the head of the Bahrain Olympic Committee . Even though some athletes were recently released from detention, the authorities are still continuing to take legal actions against them according to the Military Public Prosecutor .
The authorities in Bahrain systematically used excessive force  to suppress peaceful protesters in the February/March protests that resulted in the death of tens of people especially following the military landing in the streets, calling Saudi and UAE forces to aid in the suppression of peaceful protestors, and the declaration of Martial law on the 15th of March. All sectors of the community were targeted such as opposition leaders, human rights activists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, reporters, school and university students, union members (both men and women), as well as other sectors of the community including athletes.
This campaign, which particularly targeted Shia’a muslims for political and sectarian reasons, resulted in a wide range of human rights abuses. More than 1400 individuals were arrested, more than 2000 workers were fired from their jobs, mosques and maa’tams belonging to the Shia’a sect were demolished, systematic acts of torture in detention were executed which resulted in 4 deaths in prison, the main hospital was converted into a military installation, the wounded from protests were subjected to torture inside the hospital, night raids on the houses of those wanted were carried out and resulted in the destruction and theft of these houses, and other human rights violations which were documented by international human rights organizations.
A number of athletes participated in peaceful protests last February which supported the legitimate demands of the Bahraini people and condemned the brutal attack on peaceful protestors on the 17th of February 2011 which resulted in the death of 4 and tens of wounded. This was the only peaceful protest that was organized by the athletes following the crown prince Salman Bin Hamad’s statement which acknowledged the legitimacy of the protestors’ demands and the citizen’s right to peaceful protests.
The campaign targeting athletes started last April when Bahrain TV  showed in one of its programs pictures and videos of the Athletes’ Demonstration  describing the participants as traitors. The presenter as well as guests accused the athletes of insulting the security, the leadership, and the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Bahrain, as well as accusing them of calling for the fall of the regime . In a phone call by Naser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa to the program, he threatened to punish every athlete or politician who participated in the pro-democracy demonstrations. Following this, a campaign of arrest of many athletes started .
This campaign that targeted athletes and described them as traitors was not limited to national television but extended to pro-government newspapers which supported the arbitrary acts against athletes. One of the newspaper reporters described those who participated in the Athletes‘ Demonstrations as “handed themselves over to the hideous criminal plans that want to kidnap the country and overthrow the regime” . Another reporter said to the athletes: “who is not with the regime is against it” .
The Bahraini authorities started targeting athletes including football players in Bahrain TV where it called Alaa Hubail  and Sayed Mohamed Adnan  to apologize for participating in the athletes’ demonstration. The TV show sounded like a police interrogation. The authorities arrested several athletes starting from April 2011 and kept them in detention for more than two months without being allowed family visits or visits from their lawyers. From those who were detained were Alaa Hubail and Ali Saeed. Football clubs suspended more than 30 players and administrators (Ali Saeed, Alaa Hubail, Mohammed Hubail, Abbas Ayad, Abdul Wahab Ali, Alaa Ayad, Jaffar Ebrahim Tooq, Mohammed Mirza Alujaimi, Adnan Sharaf, Shaker Salman, Hassan Sayed Isa, Ahmed Mushaima, Hussain Ayad, Hasan Al Mosawi, Ahmed Al Hujairi, Abdul Husain Habib, Jaffar Al Khabaz, Ali Salman, Abdul Hamid Abdul Aziz, Ali Nairoz, Faisal Al Aali, Ali Mayoof, Ali Sanqoor, Abdul Ali Al Sekri, Nader Abdul Jalil, Tholfeqar Abdul Amir Naji, Mahmood Abu Idris, Salah Abdul Jalil, Saeed Alasbool, Abdul Azim Hasan, Zakariya Ebrahim). Of those names some famous players known regionally and in the continent such as Alaa Hubail and Mohammed Hubail in addition to the international referee Zakariya Ebrahim.
At least one player was put on trial in a military court even after the end of the state of “National Safety” who is Mohamed Hubail. He was arrested from Al Ahli Club on the 5th April 2011 while he was practicing football and was put on military trial after two month of detention after which he was sentence on 23th June 2011 with 2 years in prison for participating in a demonstration against the regime . Later on, Mohamed was released on 28th June 2011 following pressure from FIFA but the military public prosecutor promised to continue litigation against those who were released.
Bahrain Center for Human Rights thinks that targeting the player Alaa Hubail did not come from his participation in the Athletes’ Demonstrations only but also due to the fact that he helped treating the injured during an attack by the Peninsula Shield on Sitra village on 15th March 2011 which prevented the wounded from going to the hospital to receive treatment after closing it down.
Bahrain Center for Human Rights received testimonies from relatives of Alaa and Mohamed Hubail confirming that they were subjected to torture in prison. Moreover, Al Ahli Club declared these two players permanently suspended from playing due to their participation in the Athletes’ Demonstrations .
Bahrain TV showed on 27th June a confession and apology  of the national team player Ali Saeed who was arrested since 5th April 2011. He was released on 28th June without suspending litigation against him according to the military public prosecutor. It is believed that most of these televised confessions are brought about under torture especially since those detained usually deny all claims in court in front of the judge.
Of those detained the teenager Tho-alfeqar Abdul Amir Naji  who is 16 years of age. He is an Iraqi player who studies in secondary school and plays for the Muharraq Youth Club and was arrested on 15th April 2011.
The decision to suspend the international referee Zakariya Ebrahim Ali came about in April 2011 after a phone call from officials in the referee committee which claimed that high authorities ordered the suspension of any one who is suspected to have participated in peaceful protests. He was called for interrogation in the Department of Criminal Investigations in Adliya and was handcuffed and eye-covered until he was released. He was then called to appear before a military court on 21 June 2011 and was accused of instigating hatred of the regime and demonstrating with a group that called for the overthrow of the regime. The head of Referee Affairs at the Bahrain Football Federation and the ex-international referee Abdul Rahman Abdul Khaliq Al Dolawer confirmed that Zakariya Ebrahim during the protests managed 3 matches outside of Bahrain in the Asian Cup. Zakariya was one of 4 Bahraini referees who were suspended due to their participation in the Athletes’ Demonstration .
In a statement by the Bahrain News Agency on 7th April 2011, the secretary general of the Bahrain Football Federation - which is headed by Shaikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa - Abdul Rahman Sayar said: “The Federation in association with the clubs strives to impose all the necessary penalties and suspensions on those who violated the law from the athletes whether they were players, administrators, or coaches, through their participation in illegal demonstrations or gatherings or anything that tries to overthrow the regime or insults the state symbols”. He justified these actions by orders from the head of the Higher Council for Youth and Sports and the Head of the Olympic Committee Shaikh Naser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa . As a result of that, players who participated in the Athletes’ Demonstrations were stricken-out from their clubs . Of those clubs: Manama Club , Riffa Club , and Bahrain Club .
Moreover, 6 clubs were suspended and are Malkiya, Al Shabab, Sitra, Al Etifaq, Al Etihad. They were also fined BD 7500. This decision caused Al Malkiya Club and Al Shabab Club to fall to the second grade . These 6 clubs sent a letter to the Bahrain Football Federation asking it to suspend their sport activities due to security concerns that prevent the continuation of training .
The authorities arrested 14 basketball players and administrators and suspended clubs. Of those arrested are (Ahmed Hasan Al Derazi, Ali Abbas, Mahdi Hajji, Ahmed Merza, Mohamed Khademi, Nouh Najaf, Mohammed Najaf, Mahmood Gholam, Mohamed Hasan Al Derazi, Hasan Nairoz, Orman Abdul Ridha, Hani Alam, Ahmed Aziz Sadiq, Mohamed Husain Muhsen, Mohamed Qurban, Mahmood Abdul Nabi, Ali Aqeel Melad, Sayed Hashim Habib, Aqeel Milad, Kareem Anzoor, Najah Milad, Jaffar Rashed, Ahmed Hamza, Aziz Abdul Nabi, Sayed Saleh Sayed Mahdi).
In a statement to one of the newspapers, the president of the Bahrain Basketball Federation Adel Asoomi asked for “punishing international players and club players in all sports who participated in the demonstrations that called for the overthrow of the regime ”. He issued an order to form an investigation committee to what he called “irresponsible violations committed by players, administrators, and technicians during their participation in demonstrations that call for the overthrow of the regime and the insult of state symbols, the wise leadership, and the nation’s land”. The Basketball Federation issued a statement which threatened to take necessary actions against everyone who was proven to have participated in the Athletes’ Demonstrations and any pro-democracy protests. The Federation emphasized that the right to stay is only to athletes who are loyal and loving of the land of the Kingdom of Bahrain and those who refuse to affect the security and stability, and refuse to insult state symbols and leaders by all means and every way possible ”.
Almost 10 handball players, referees, and administrators were arrested and some were suspended. They are (Mohamed Ali Jawad, Ali Mirza Salman, Mohamed Mirza Salman, Maher Ashoor, Sadiq Ali, Basem Al Derazi, Salah Abdul Jalil, Husain Fakher, Ghassan Ameer, Mohamed Radhi, Ali Ebrahim Al Shamrookh, Hasan Abbas, Ali Al Showeakh, Makki Amman, Abdulwahid Al Eskafi, Jasim Al Salatinah, Isa Mohammed Sowayed, Ali Al Motawa, Abdulla Ali, Husain Al Qaydoom, Husain Al Sayad, Abdul Ridha Kadhem Al Owaynati, Sayed Al Falahi, Mohamed Al Maqabi, Jaffar Abdul Qader, Moamer Al Watani, Mahdi Madan, Radhi Habeeb Jawad).
The president of the Bahrain Handball Federation stated that the board members of the federation will convene to pinpoint all members of the federation from employees, coaches, national teams administrators, and referees and to take necessary actions against those who participated in the athletes’ demonstration . The secretary general of the federation Khalid Najim stated to one of the local newspapers that decisions made by the Handball Federation were taken based on pictures shown on Bahrain TV to the athletes’ demonstration and that “a committee headed by the senior deputy president Fuad Al Khudor was formed to look into any documents and reports from official entities that prove the participation of other members of the federation in the demonstration ”.
The authorities arrested some volleyball players among them (Sadiq Ebrahim, Ali Mohamed Abdul Nabi, Saleh Mahdi, Coach Abdul jalil Al Aradi, and referee Husain Kaabi). Moreover, clubs suspended several players among them (Sadiq Ebrahim, Yaseen Ali Al Mail, Sayed Ali Ashoor, Mubarak Mohamed Al Hayki, Mohamed Abdul Amir, Akbar Saeed, Mirza Abdulla, Husain Al Hayki, Salah Hassan, Mohamed Hasan Abo Rowayes, Abdul Ilah Abdulla, Abdul Jalil Al Aradi, Ali Jaffar, and Saleh Mahdi). The Volleyball Federation also stricken-out all players who participated in the athletes’ demonstration . Player Salih Mahdi stood before a military court and was sentenced to 2 years in prison.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights observed the arrest of athletes who received local, continental, and international awards such as the bodybuilding champion Tariq Al Fursani  and Ali Al Khayat. Moreover, Sayed Noor Sayed Jawad Al Widaai who won continental awards in the handicapped sports was also arrested. The Bahrain champion in table tennis Anwar Maki Hassan and Snooker player Husain Al Watani were also arrested.
Arrests included sports reporters such as Faisal Hayat and Husain Al Derazi. The arbitrary campaign also targeted Ali Jawad - the head of Al Ahli Club Fans Association - and Hasan Rashed Al Derazi - the head of Al Etifaq Club Fan Association.
In a new development, the authorities released 16 athletes on 28th and 29th of June 2011 . However, the military public prosecutor at the Bahrain Defense Force emphasized that litigation will continue against these players according to the working rules and regulations . In a comment by the head of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sport and the head of the Bahrain Olympic Committee Naser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa in his Twitter account on the release of the detained athletes he said that he does not interfere in court affairs and if it was up to him he would have punished them all with life in prison .
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its regret on the way the suppressive regime dealt with some citizens who have made great accomplishments locally, regionally, as well as internationally. While they honored and rewarded their country with championships and awards, they are rewarded with a policy of systematic discrimination to sideline them and strip them from their political rights. This policy was put through over many years since the royal family took control of decision making in most of sport organizations in the country according to a report by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights in 2003 .
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights regards the targeting of those athletes through arrests and suspension due to their participation in popular demonstrations that demanded their rights is a clear violation of their legitimate right to protest and express their opinion. Moreover, their suspension from sport activities and their harassment through security, judicial, or administrative procedures based on the fact that they practiced their legitimate rights is considered a type of discrimination against them and it is against what the government of Bahrain have promised by signing agreements including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights in which it promised not to discriminate based on political opinion and to uphold the right to freedom of expression and the right to protest .
Based on the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands the following:
1. The termination of all court cases and the immediate release of all athletes who were arrested because they expressed their opinion or practiced their legitimate right to peaceful assembly. 2. The revocation of all suspension decisions against athletes and reinstating them to their positions as well as compensating them for physical and moral damages. 3. The suspension of all Bahraini sport federations in all international and continental federations due to the violations committed by sport officials to the principals of political neutrality until those officials withdraw all the decisions they have made based on political positions as well as holding those officials accountable to their grave violations. 4. The suspension of the Bahrain Football Federation from FIFA for the violation of article 3 and article 17 of FIFA rules on Non-discrimination and stance against racism and which state that each Member shall manage its affairs independently and with no influence from third parties.  and article (6) of the FIFA code of ethics which requires that sport officials maintain political neutrality . 5. Taking radical reforms to limit the control of the ruling family on sports in Bahrain.