A talented young Melbourne-based football player has revealed how he went from national hero to torture victim in 48 hours.
Hakeem al-Araibi, a former Bahrain national youth player, fled to Australia after being bailed following his arrest by state security police during the 2011 pro-democracy uprisings that swept the Middle East.
He was charged over an attack on a police station — yet insists that at the moment of the attack, he was playing in a match shown live on national TV.
The promising defender had his legs badly beaten in jail and, fearing for his life, left his birthplace as soon as he could.
His claims come as the then president of the Bahrain Football Association, Sheik Salman, is being touted as the favourite to replace disgraced Sepp Blatter as president of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body.
Doubts have been raised over Sheik Salman’s suitability ahead of the vote tomorrow night by 207 FIFA nations.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy has lodged an official complaint to FIFA investigators and called for Sheik Salman, now president of the Asian Football Confederation, to be disqualified from the election for breaching FIFA’s code of ethics.
BIRD claims Sheik Salman neglected his obligation to protect Bahraini footballers.
Al-Araibi, now 22, is one of six players forced into exile who have not played for Bahrain since.
More than 150 athletes, coaches and referees have been jailed without due process in the emirate, with 70 still behind bars, it is claimed.
Protests erupted in February 2011, with the country’s majority Shia calling for political reforms by the ruling Sunni royal family.
Al-Araibi is a Shia, but says he played no part. Asked if Sheik Salman was aware of his plight, he said: “Yes, of course. He was the president of Bahrain Football Association. He awarded me a medal but two days later, I was arrested and they accused me of attacking a police station.
“At the same time of that incident, I was playing for Al-Shabab against Al-Busaiteen on live TV. Sheik Salman did not do anything for me.’’
Of his torture, he said: “When I was (first) arrested, they took me to the police station and once they confirmed who I was, they started beating my legs for more than three hours. That’s the reason why I’m scared to go back to Bahrain, so I don’t get abused and tortured again.
“In any second, they can break my leg and destroy my future,” he said.
Al-Araibi, who has just signed with Victorian second-tier side Goulburn Valley Suns, says he is aware of the risks of speaking out, but insists he has been left with no choice.
Sheik Salman has denied any wrongdoing, and said he had no direct influence over the country’s security services.
© 2016 Herald Sun | This article was written by David Davutovic first appeared in the Herald Sun on 25 February 2016.