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Athletes rally in Baghdad, demand release of Iraqi football player detained in Bahrain
BAGHDAD (AP) ' Dozens of athletes rallied in Baghdad on Wednesday, demanding the release of a 16-year-old Iraqi football player detained in Bahrain earlier this year when the country was swept by anti-government protests.
Hussein Aboud, a coach in Baghdad's al-Hadoud club, says the arrest of Zulfiqar Naji was not justified and was politically motivated. Naji plays for Bahrain's al-Muharraq club, and his supporters say he did not participate in protests against the Bahraini government.
"We demand the release of Naji, whose arrest was unjustifiable," Aboud said. "He is being kept in prison because Bahraini authorities want to show that the protests are a foreign conspiracy."
The Baghdad protesters were wearing their club jerseys. They held posters of Naji and banners urging the Iraqi government to intervene to ensure his immediate release.
His father, Abdulameer Naji, accused the Iraqi government for doing little to help.
"The whole family has been living in constant ordeal for the past four months," the father said. "My son did nothing wrong, and he is now in custody based on false information."
Earlier this month, Iraq's foreign ministry said it was trying to obtain the release of the young player from Bahrain's custody.
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.
Bahrain lifted the 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.
Several weeks ago, FIFA said Bahraini football officials have given the sport's governing body assurances that national team players haven't been disciplined during political turmoil in the Gulf kingdom.