A British man has been arrested and detained in the United Arab Emirates after he wore a Qatar football team shirt during a match at the AFC Asian Cup, according to a UK media report.
Ali Issa Ahmad, 26, was detained and beaten up for wearing a football shirt which promoted Qatar at the team’s group match against Iraq in the capital, Abu Dhabi, on January 22, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.
Showing sympathy for Qatar is punishable in the UAE, with a jail term of up to 15 years.
The sanctions were imposed after the Emirati state, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar, accusing the Gulf state of supporting “terrorism”.
Doha has repeatedly and vehemently denied the allegations.
Ahmad, from Wolverhampton in central England and an Arsenal fan, was in the UAE on holiday when he attended the tournament match, his friend Amer Lokie, told the Guardian.
“This is just unspeakable,” Lokie was quoted as saying about the detention.
“It seems that he was released after being detained, assaulted by the security men in the car and accused of promoting Qatar.”
According to Lokie, who spoke to Ahmad on the phone, as he begged for help to get released, his friend was again detained and accused of telling lies after he went to the police station to report his initial assault.
“We’re not clear about exactly what happened next but he has been held because he is accused of making false allegations against UAE security officials,” Lokie said. “He said he is being held in a place called Al Sharjar.”
The UAE embassy said it was looking into the allegations of the detention. Meanwhile, UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was “providing assistance” and was “in touch with the local authorities.”
“I am in shock that he was arrested and assaulted because of the football T-shirt he was wearing,” Lokie added. “We are all so worried about him. This is very serious.”
The Asian Cup was played in the UAE between January 5 and February 1.
In #UAE it is an offence to show sympathy to #Qatar, a country it blockades. Makes it all the more extraordinary that #Qatar became Asian champions last week, in Abu Dhabi of all places. Ludicrous. https://t.co/cmLSUD2aeG
— Steve Cockburn (@stevecockburn) February 5, 2019
The team was given a rousing reception in the capital, Doha, on Saturday with the Emir welcoming the players followed by a street parade by jubilant fans.
But Qatar’s road to the final and participation at the continental tournament was marred by controversy.
Qatari football fans were barred from attending the tournament in the UAE because of the bitter political rift and their national team was forced to play almost entirely without support from the stands.
Qatari players were filmed being struck by and dodging slippers, shoes, and bottles thrown by local fans during a bad-tempered semifinal win against the host nation.
Ahmad’s reported detention comes more than two months after British academic Matthew Hedges was released by the UAE by a presidential pardon after spending more than six months in prison in an espionage case.
He had been sentenced to life in prison for spying, escalating a diplomatic tussle between the UAE and Britain.