Sentenced to prison: National goalkeeper Ali Said
By James M. Dorsey
Bahrain has halted legal proceedings against more than a hundred predominantly Shiite Muslim athletes and sports officials accused of having participated in anti-government protests early this year.
The state-run Bahrain News Agency said the charges that included illegal assembly, inciting hatred against the Gulf island’s Sunni monarchy and defaming leaders had been dropped after King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa had forgiven them.
The news report did not make clear whether athletes who have already been sentenced by military courts as part of a heavy-handed government crackdown were included in the king’s effort to squash criticism that he has failed to act on a report by a fact-finding commission headed by international rights lawyers that concluded last month that detainees had suffered systematic abuse during the crackdown.
It also did not make clear whether the sportspeople would be allowed to return to their jobs and whether the ban on their playing or competing for the country’s national teams and clubs would be lifted.
A military court last weekend sentenced Bahrain national soccer team goalkeeper Ali Said, bodybuilder and several times Asian championship gold medallist Tareq al-Fursani, and national basketball team player Hassan al-Dirazi to a year in prison for participating in the protests.
The three sportsmen were sentenced on charges of illegal congregation, incitement of hatred of Bahrain’s political systems and failing to obey orders banning their involvement in politics.
They were among some 150 soccer players, athletes and sports executives arrested or fired from their positions as part of the government’s brutal crackdown that squashed the protests, part of a wave of popular uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa that have already toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Bahrain backed by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has asserted that the demonstrations were instigated by Shiite Iran in a bid to sow sectarian discord and destabilize the predominantly Shiite Gulf island that is ruled by a Sunni Muslim majority.
The crackdown involved the imposition of martial law for nearly three months, the sacking of some 2,000 people from government jobs and detention of 3,000 others as well as the of ordering military trials for several hundred.
Among the athletes put on trial were brothers Alaa and Mohammed Hubail, who are national soccer team stars. Alaa has said that he and his brother had been abused and humiliated during their detention. Mohammed was appealing a two-year sentence while Alaa was about to go on trial before the dropping of the charges.
Another national soccer team player, defender Sayed Mohamed Adnan, fled to Australia where he joined Brisbane Roar after having spent three month in prison during which he asserts that he was beaten and tortured. It remains to be seen whether he will now be able to return to Bahrain.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.