A British football fan has been detained in the United Arab Emirates after wearing a Qatari team shirt to a match, as diplomatic tensions between the two Gulf states continue to simmer.
The UK Foreign Office is assisting British national 26-year-old Ali Issa Ahmad, an Arsenal supporter who lives in Wolverhampton, following his arrest, Sky News reports.
He had bought a ticket for the Asian Cup match between Qatar and Iraq on January 22 while on holiday in the UEA, and then wore the Qatar shirt to the game - “not knowing that doing so in the UAE is an offence punishable with a large fine and an extended period of imprisonment”, says The Guardian.
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Along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, the UAE cut ties with Qatar in June 2017 over allegations of Doha funding Islamic extremists around the world.
The UK Foreign Office website warns visitors to the UAE to be aware of these tensions, saying: “Showing sympathy for Qatar on social media or by any other means of communication is an offence. Offenders could be imprisoned and subject to a substantial fine.”
However, authorities in Abu Dhabi dispute the claims that Ahmad was arrested for wearing the football shirt. The government insists he was detained for “making a false police report”, reports UAE-based news agency The National.
Ahmad is alleged to have gone to a police station after being “abused by UAE fans” and to have then been taken to hospital for an examination. He was arrested and “charged with making false statements and wasting police time” after authorities deemed his injuries “self-inflicted”, the site continues.
These claims were later repeated in a statement posted on Twitter by the UAE embassy in London.
But The Daily Telegraph suggests that Ahmad had been arrested at the match and was abused by UAE security officials. “He was later released but went back to a police station to report the abuse,” according to the newspaper, which says he was “then arrested again and accused of making false claims against authorities”.
Radha Stirling, chief executive of campaign group Detained in Dubai, told the Telegraph: “It is outrageous that the UAE would politicise football to the point that a foreign fan with no political or ideological allegiances in the ongoing regional dispute would be arrested.”
A UAE embassy spokesperson said: “The United Arab Emirates embassy is looking into allegations that a British citizen has been detained. The UAE is a nation built on the rule of law and respect for individuals.”
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