Bahrain’s most famous soccer player remains in detention after his arrest earlier this month in the tiny Gulf island country as authorities there crack down on protesters demanding reforms, according to Said Yousif, a member of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
A’ala Hubail, 28, the country’s leading scorer with 24 goals in 68 appearances, was arrested along with his brother Mohammed after state television showed the pair attending a pro-democracy protest, according to the Times of London.
They were arrested while training with their club Al Ahli and reportedly handcuffed and frog-marched off the training field.
Two other players, Abbas Ayaad and Mohamad Sayed Adnan, were also arrested and detained. Both players, as well as Mohammed Hubail, still remain in detention as well, Yousif remarked.
According to the Associated Press, the four have been suspended by their clubs and by the national team for supporting the protests, joining a reported 150 more sportsmen who’ve suffered a similar fate in recent weeks.
The Bahrain Football Association has backed the move, saying, “The suspension falls under misconduct, and the breaching of the rules and regulations of sporting clubs…not to engage in political affairs.”
Bahrain are ranked 95th in FIFA world standings and seventh in Asia out of 43 nations. They narrowly missed out on the 2010 World Cup, losing a playoff match to New Zealand. The oil rich Gulf kingdom has a 10 team professional league but matches have been suspended since protests began in February.
Bahrain’s Sunni government, headed by the Al Khalifa royal family who’ve ruled for more than 200 years, launched a fierce crackdown against the protesters demanding more rights for the Shia population who form the majority of the country’s estimated 600,000 residents but are barred from holding key government posts and from joining the police or army.
The Hubali brothers are both Shia, as are all the other athletes suspended. A’ala had worked as a paramedic before becoming a professional soccer player. His five goals in the 2004 Asian games won him the Golden Boot award as the tournament’s joint top-scorer.
Some 800 people have been arrested and detained since the protests started, according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. The government imposed marital law on March 15.
At least four people detained since February 14 have died in police custody, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. The group said one of its researchers in the country saw “signs of horrific abuse” on the body of one the detainees who died in custody.
The sweeping crackdown has seen doctors, nurses, teachers and lawyers rounded up and fired from their jobs for participating in the protests.
The Sunni monarchy last month invited 1,500 troops from neighboring Gulf countries Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to join Bahrain forces in crushing the protest movement.
The government says the protests amount to a coup attempt and charge that the Iranian government and Lebanon’s Hezbollah are behind the movement.
Other sporting stars arrested include a former bodybuilding champion, Tareq al-Fursani, a gold medallist in several Asian championships, who was arrested at his home in a village east of the capital Manama on Saturday, Reuters reported.
A soccer commentator, Faisal Hayat, has also been arrested for attending the pro-democracy protests prompting International Sports Press Association President Gianni Merlo to speak out: “We will always be on the side of journalists who are fighting to defend their rights and freedom,” Merlo said.
“Our association will make an official complaint to the National Olympic Committee of Bahrain,” he added.
And, embarrassingly, the unrest also forced Bahrain to cancel its March 13 Formula One Grand Prix, depriving the government of the international prestige that comes with hosting the event.
An online petition launched on Monday is calling on FIFA chief Sepp Blatter and the heads of other international sports agencies to immediately ban Bahrain from international events.
Most of the arrests came after an April 4 appearance on state TV by Nasser Al-Khalifa, a son of the king and head of Bahrain Olympic Committee.
“Bahrain is an island with no escape passage, everybody who interfered in these issues will be punished and everybody who took a stand (supporting the regime) will be awarded,” he said. “The people who stood with or against the king are well-known to us.”
Denis Fitzgerald is a New York-based freelance journalist covering the United Nations and a writer for Bleacher Report. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights confirmed to Fitzgerald on April 22 that the Hubail brothers remain in detention following their April 7 arrest and Abbas Ayaad and Mohamad Sayed Adnan also remain in detention.