BAGHDAD (AFP) – Bahraini authorities have sentenced a teenage Iraqi footballer to a year in jail and deportation from the Gulf state, the boy’s father, an Iraqi club football coach, told AFP.
Zulfiqar Naji, 16, was arrested in April accused of taking part in anti-government protests in Bahrain, and was sentenced on Wednesday, Abdelamir Naji said. He pledged to appeal the ruling.
“The sentence was a year in prison as well as deportation from Bahrain,” Abdelamir told AFP late on Thursday. “We have spoken to a lawyer in Bahrain, who is following up the case to start an appeal against the sentence.”
“After sentencing, my son was moved to another prison where he will spend the rest of his sentence, after already spending six months in the first jail.”
Abdelamir added that he had spoken to his son, who “seemed in good spirits.”
According to Abdelamir, Zulfiqar is a talented footballer who was attending classes at the Sheikh Abdel Aziz school in Manama and trained in the afternoon with the al-Mouharrak football club’s junior team.
Naji played with Iraq’s Al-Zawra club from 1978 to 1990 before coaching four football sides in Bahrain — al-Mouharrak, al-Itifaq, al-Ittihad and al-Badiyah.
Tensions between Iraq and the six Gulf Arab states, including Bahrain, rose sharply earlier this year after Sunni-ruled Bahrain secured military support from fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members to smash a month of pro-democracy protests led by the kingdom’s Shiite majority.
Bahrain’s two airlines have stopped flights to Iraq as part of the rise in tensions.
Iraq’s Shiite-led government has struggled to eradicate an insurgency among the Sunni Arab minority that dominated now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime. The conflict degenerated into sectarian bloodshed in which thousands died in 2006 and 2007.