Bahrain Interior Minister Comes to the Rescue of AFC President Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa
2019-02-02 - 5:30 am
Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): The case of Bahraini football player Hakeem Al-Araibi, who is held in Thailand, caused the Government of Bahrain a severe headache. The Minister of Interior Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa was compelled to issue a statement to comment on the media campaign that has been ongoing for two month, led by the world football community and foreign news agencies and newspapers. He said on Monday (January 28, 2019) in a statement published in the papers that "external interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain is unacceptable in any circumstance," adding that "those raising unfounded doubts about the integrity and independence of the Kingdom's judicial system are not only interfering, but also attempting to influence the course of justice."
It is unusual for the Interior Minister to personally reply to the foreign media when provoked, as this is usually done by the security media affiliated to his ministry. The team working under his authority was capable before of bringing back several Bahraini political activists from countries including Thailand, torture and then imprison them for lengthy terms.
However, this time the local and international human rights community managed to make a difference by involving one of his cousins in the case and compromising his name, contrary to his ambitions in presenting himself as an international respectful football figure.
The head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and FIFA vice president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has barely recovered from the arrows of the wide media campaign launched against him upon running for the FIFA presidency back in 2016 to replace the Swiss president Joseph Blatter, yet he has soon found himself under attack by another campaign that he didn't prepare for or involve himself in.
As world football associations and the International Olympic Committee, including FIFA, raced to condemn the arrest of the detained footballer in Thailand and warned of the risks of his arrest and torture if extradited to Bahrain, Salman remained silent as if the football player's life doesn't concern him.
And so did the AFC which Salman heads. It distanced itself from the case for 60 days before it was forced, under unprecedented media pressure, to issue a statement talking about "interest conflict" between Salman and the case of Al-Araibi. Brendan Schwab, Executive Director of athlete support group World Players Association, tweeted commenting on the statement saying: "The Sheikh's admitted conflict of interest surely disqualifies him from office. Football leaders are now legally obliged to champion human rights, not turn a blind eye."
It was obvious that Salman is in trouble. The ruling family man who in 2011 supervised the commissions of inquiry set up to hunt down athletes who took part in the protests has again become the target of a major media campaign that is digging up all his previous files. He is an official responsible for human rights violations, particularly against athletes in his country.
What is the solution then? His cousin, Bahraini Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, volunteered to offer the antidote to him by playing his favorite record that the security body resorts to when addressing the international community regarding critics of the government. He referred to Hakeem as a terrorist.
"Hakeem Al-Araibi is a terrorist", this was the conclusion of the statement issued by the Interior Minister on Monday. It is designed for consumption by international organizations and federations, intimidating the countries that are striving to release Al-Araibi and return him to his country of asylum, Australia. Nonetheless, this fragile statement puts the president of the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA vice president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa at the core of this issue, as part of an integrated police system that defends one another, instead of distancing the many suspicions that linger around him.
If there is something he can do to avoid the humiliation he is being exposed to, it is taking advantage of his influence to urge his family to let Al-Araibi return to his football club in Australia, and then he can continue to enjoy his football positions and aspire to achieve more.
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