Bahraini royal, top AFC candidate, denies persecuting players
Bahraini refutes claims by human rights group that protesting international stars were tortured
Agence France-Presse in Singapore
A leading candidate to become Asia's next football boss has made a fresh denial that players were persecuted under his direction in Bahrain after a rights group urged delegates to vote against him.
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a Bahraini royal and head of the country's football association, made the comments after Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) said players were tortured and abused during a crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
The controversy comes just a week before Sheikh Salman stands as one of four candidates for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), a post vacated by Mohamed bin Hammam after claims of bribery and financial wrongdoing.
"I would like to reiterate that in my capacity as the president of the Bahrain Football Association [BFA], I have always been committed to manage, control and develop our game independently and autonomously without any kind of outside interference," he said.
"I can assure anyone that the BFA is being guided according to the highest possible governance standards of integrity and transparency - fully in line with the AFC and Fifa statutes; and no action has been taken under my direction against any member of the football community.
"I therefore vehemently deny all allegations made in this letter. The content of this letter is a clear attempt to damage my personal reputation and to interfere with the AFC presidential elections taking place in Kuala Lumpur."
In the letter to members of the AFC Congress, ADHRB said players who took part in protests in 2011 were arrested and tortured.
Bahrain international Mohammed Hubail was convicted and sentenced at a closed-door trial, while his brother Alaa, the country's top striker, and fellow national player Sayed Mohamed Adnan were also punished, the group said.
"Under the direction of Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa, head of the Bahrain Football Association and member of Bahrain's royal family, football players were arrested, detained, abused, tortured, and publicly humiliated," it said.
"In light of the abuses inflicted upon football players ...we ask that you make the right decision by choosing not to elect Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa to the position of president of the AFC."