Iraq 'working for footballer's release'

Football authorities say that a 16-year-old player is being held in Bahrain for allegedly taking part in protests.

    Iraq's FA says a young footballer at a Bahraini club is being held by the Gulf kingdom authorities [GALLO/GETTY]

    Iraq appealed to Bahraini authorities to release an Iraqi football player who was detained in the Gulf kingdom this year during anti-government protests, Iraqi football officials and diplomats said.

    The president of the Iraqi Football Association, Najeh Hamoud, told the Associated Press on Sunday that Baghdad is trying to "secure the release" of Zulfiqar Naji, a 16-year-old player on the junior team for Bahraini club Al Muharraq.

    "We are working quietly on this matter with Bahrain's government and with Bahraini sports representatives," Hamoud said.

    The player's father, Abdulameer Naji, told the AP in a phone interview on Sunday that his son was taken into custody from their Bahrain home in April on suspicion of participating in protests against the monarchy.

    Abdulameer Naji denied his son took part in demonstrations.

    "He never left the house, he was always at home," the player's father said.

    "He was arrested because some of his friends in prison mentioned his name when they were questioned. They said that their friend, Zulfiqar, was in protests on the street. But he was not."

    Bahraini football and government officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday.

    Iraq's Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abbawi confirmed the country's efforts to obtain the release of the young player from Bahrain's custody.

    "The Iraqi foreign ministry asked in a letter to Bahraini foreign ministry about the case of Iraqi football player, arrested in Bahrain," Abbawi told the AP by telephone.

    "We are following up this subject and efforts continue to secure his release," Abbawi said.

    Bahrain players held

    At least three players for Bahrain's national team have been detained since February when Bahrain's Shiite majority started a wave of demonstrations for greater freedoms in the Sunni-ruled island nation.

    One of them was sentenced to two years in prison.

    Hundreds of opposition supporters, protesters and at least 150 athletes and sports officials have been detained since Bahrain imposed martial law in March to quell dissent.

    Dozens have been tried in a special security tribunal with military prosecutors, including Bahrain's two national team players, Mohammed and Alaa Hubail.

    Earlier this month, Mohammed Hubail received a two-year prison sentence for joining anti-government protests.

    Bahrain lifted emergency rule in June. The country's Sunni rulers also halted trials in the military-linked tribunal and shifted all protest-related detainees to civilian courts.

    The Hubail brothers were released from custody earlier this month, although authorities have not dropped the charges against them.

    Last week football's world governing body FIFA said Bahraini football officials had given the sport's governing body assurances that national team players haven't been disciplined during political turmoil in Bahrain.



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