Iraq appeals to Bahrain for footballer’s release

Iraq appealed to Bahraini authorities to release an Iraqi

football player who was detained in the Gulf kingdom this year

during anti-government protests, Iraqi football officials and

diplomats said Sunday.

The president of the Iraqi Football Association, Najeh Hamoud,

told The Associated Press that Baghdad is trying to ”secure the

release” of Zulfiqar Naji, a 16-year-old player on the junior team

for Bahraini club Al Muharraq.

”We are working quietly on this matter with Bahrain’s

government and with Bahraini sports representatives,” Hamoud

said.

The player’s father, Abdulameer Naji, told the AP in a phone

interview on Sunday that his son was taken into custody from their

Bahrain home in April on suspicion of participating in protests

against the monarchy.

Abdulameer Naji denied his son took part in demonstrations.

”He never left the house, he was always at home,” the player’s

father said. ”He was arrested because some of his friends in

prison mentioned his name when they were questioned. They said that

their friend, Zulfiqar, was in protests on the street. But he was

not.”

Bahraini football and government officials could not immediately

be reached to comment.

Iraq’s Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abbawi confirmed the

country’s ongoing efforts to obtain the release of the young player

from Bahrain’s custody.

”The Iraqi foreign ministry asked in a letter to Bahraini

foreign ministry about the case of Iraqi football player, arrested

in Bahrain,” Abbawi told the AP on the phone Sunday.

”We are following up this subject and efforts continue to

secure his release,” Abbawi said.

At least three players for Bahrain’s national team have been

detained since February when Bahrain’s Shiite majority started a

wave of demonstrations for greater freedoms in the Sunni-ruled

island nation. One of them was sentenced to 2 years in prison.

Hundreds of opposition supporters, protesters and at least 150

athletes and sports officials have been detained since Bahrain

imposed martial law in March to quell dissent. Dozens have been

tried in a special security tribunal with military prosecutors,

including Bahrain’s two national team players, Mohammed and Alaa

Hubail.

Earlier this month, Mohammed Hubail received a two-year prison

sentence for joining anti-government protests.

Bahrain has lifted emergency rule in June. The country’s Sunni

rulers also halted trials in the military-linked tribunal and

shifted all protest-related detainees to civilian courts.

The Hubail brothers have been released from custody earlier this

month, although authorities have not dropped the charges against

them.

Last week FIFA said Bahraini football officials had given the

sport’s governing body assurances that national team players

haven’t been disciplined during political turmoil in the Gulf

kingdom.