Bahrain bars HRW official from FIFA meeting over Israeli settlement football teams

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) official who was barred from entering Bahrain over his support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has accused the Gulf state of infringing on free speech.

HRW director for Israel and Palestine Omar Shakir was detained for 18 hours at Manama Airport before being extradited back to the US. Sakir planned to attend a FIFA conference to raise awareness of the world football governing body’s inaction against Israeli football clubs based in illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

Shakir told RT that he traveled to Bahrain to “raise the issue of FIFA sponsoring matches in illegal Israeli settlements… to hold meetings with delegates and representatives from FIFA and representatives to FIFA on the issue of Settlement clubs.”

“Upon arrival at the airport, airport authorities noted that I was not permitted to enter. A decision has been made by the security services that I was not welcome,” Shakir told RT.

The official reason given to him was that he was not on the “official list of attendees” who were accredited to participate in the conference, which was set to vote on a motion that Palestinian rights had been violated by Israel.

“This decision seemed clearly to be part of the pattern of Bahrain denying access to critical voices, including that of journalists,” Shakir said.

In recent years, Bahrain has denied entry to scores of human rights advocates and journalists.

“Bahrain has yet again shown its intolerance of human rights advocates,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Since 2015, the Palestine Football Association (PFA) has been urging FIFA to take action against the Israel Football Association (IFA) for allowing six Israeli settlement teams to play in the occupied territories The IFA has been resisting efforts to have settlement clubs relocated to Israel or banned from competition.

The PFA argues that settlement teams violate Article 72.2 of the FIFA statutes, which says, “Member associations and their clubs may not play on the territory of another member association without the latter’s approval.”

But despite constant appeals by the Palestinians to FIFA, they have postponed making a decision.

Just as Shakir was flying back to the US, the FIFA Congress voted Thursday to accept FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s proposal to not hold a vote on settlement teams. Infantino’s proposal passed in Manama with 73 percent support, Haaretz reports.

On Tuesday, the FIFA council had already decided to remove the draft resolution on the issue from the agenda of its congress. Shakir blamed FIFA’s failure to address the issue on the Israeli lobby.

“The only thing preventing action from taking place here is clearly political pressure being brought on FIFA officials to not follow their rules,” the HRW official stressed.