Bahrain dictatorship and Manchester United football

In 2011, protests against the Bahrain Grand Prix left a boy wearing a Manchester United shirt dead. Photo: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

From the Daily Telegraph in England:

Manchester United risk political row over Denis Law‘s Bahrain visit

Denis Law, the legendary former Manchester United striker, risks being engulfed in a political row when he visits Bahrain on Saturday after allegations that a doctor in the strife-torn Gulf kingdom had been tortured for raising the issue of human rights abuses with the club.

By Oliver Brown

11:09PM BST 11 Apr 2013

As Law prepares to attend Manchester United’s latest Soccer School in Manama, the Bahraini capital, the New York-based organisation Human Rights First claimed yesterday that Dr Fatima Haji had been beaten and electrocuted by security forces after she asked the Premier League leaders if they would hold a minute’s silence for a teenage boy killed in the 2011 uprising.

On holiday in London: Dr Fatima Haji and her husband Jalal Marzouk. She was sentenced to five years in prison for helping people injured in Bahrain protests

Law’s daughter Diana, the former United head of press, told Telegraph Sport last night that she was “worried” by the claims and would be seeking further reassurance about her father’s visit, which comes amid heightened tensions in the country ahead of next Sunday’s Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix. Last year’s race was marred by scores of anti-government demonstrations.

Brian Dooley, director of Human Rights First, alleged that Dr Haji was subject to brutal interrogation by the Bahraini authorities in April 2011 after she appealed to the club to honour the memory of Ahmad Shams, the 15-year-old shot dead by police still wearing his United shirt.

According to Dooley, Dr Haji, a rheumatologist at Bahrain’s Salmaniya medical complex, said: “I was blindfolded and handcuffed with my hands behind my back, and beaten. A man asked me: ‘What is your relationship with Alex Ferguson?’ I was shocked and figured out they had gone through my emails. A female officer hit me on the head on both sides at the same time – she was wearing what I later found out was a special electrical band on her hands, and she electrocuted me a couple of times. I felt a shockwave through my head. It was very painful and the whole world was spinning.”

Dr Haji is said to have deleted her original email to United, realising that it could have proved incriminating amid Bahrain’s drastic security crackdown, only for police to arrest her on April 17, 2011, and discover United’s reply when they accessed the messages on her computer.

“As they had responded to my email the police thought I somehow knew someone at Manchester United,” she said, in Dooley’s account.

Dooley, speaking from Washington last night, said: “I think Manchester United should be aware of what happened, both of the boy who died wearing the shirt and the Fatima connection. It would be helpful if Denis Law could meet her.

The club should know what went on, that she was tortured at least partly because of her perceived association with United. The Bahrain authorities are very sensitive to their international reputation, and the idea that a major international player like United might think ill of them clearly mattered to them deeply.”

Along with 18 other doctors, she spent weeks in custody for treating injured protesters, and was sentenced to five years in prison before being acquitted on appeal last April. Three of her co-accused remain incarcerated, with Bahrain’s human rights record again due to be thrust into the spotlight by next weekend’s grand prix.

In this context, the timing of Law’s visit on United’s behalf could hardly be more politically sensitive. United did not respond to several requests for comment yesterday.

See also here.

Update: here.

Anger as Denis Law’s trip to Bahrain for Manchester United goes ahead. Denis Law has flown to Bahrain to visit a Manchester United soccer school after seeking Foreign Office advice over the controversial trip to the Gulf state in the wake of a female doctor being tortured for raising the issue of human rights abuses with the club: here.

Tension has increased ahead of next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix as anti-government demonstrators chanted ‘Your race is a crime’ while clashing with police who fired tear-gas and sound bombs: here.

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