The United Arab Emirates’ UK embassy has strongly denied reports that a British man allegedly beaten up in the Gulf nation was arrested because he was wearing a Qatar football shirt.
Ali Issa Ahmad, who is said to be 26 and from Wolverhampton, was held in Sharjah in January.
The London embassy said he had gone to a police station claiming to have been assaulted by fans of the UAE’s national team.
However, a doctor judged his injuries appeared to have been self-inflicted, the embassy said.
The BBC reported that Mr Ahmad was on holiday in the UAE and went to watch Qatar play Iraq in an Asian Cup match in Abu Dhabi on January 22.
Ali Issa Ahmad, 26, (pictured) was detained while on holiday in the United Arab Emirates earlier this month
Qatar and several of its neighbours, including the UAE, are locked in a political and diplomatic dispute over Doha’s alleged support for radical Islamist groups.
The UK Foreign Office, which said it is assisting a British man arrested in the UAE, has warned that authorities there deem ‘showing sympathy for Qatar’ is an offence punishable by a fine or imprisonment.
In a statement, the UAE’s London embassy said Mr Ahmad was ‘categorically not arrested for wearing a Qatar football shirt’.
‘We understand from the authorities in Sharjah emirate that Mr Issa Ahmad, a dual Sudanese-British citizen, presented himself to the police station there in January claiming he had been harassed and beaten up by UAE national football fans for cheering the Qatar team at the AFC Club tournament.
‘The police took him to hospital where a doctor who examined him concluded that his injuries were inconsistent with his account of events and appeared to be self-inflicted.’
The embassy said Mr Ahmad was charged with wasting police time and making false statements on January 24.
‘We are advised he has since admitted those offences and will now be processed through UAE courts,’ the embassy said.
It added that ‘due process has been followed’ and Mr Ahmad, an Arabic speaker, ‘fully understands the situation he has put himself in’.
A UK Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘We are providing assistance to a British man arrested in the United Arab Emirates and are in touch with the local authorities.’
The UAE, who were the tournament hosts, has been embroiled in a furious diplomatic row with Doha after joining a Saudi-led blockade of the country in 2017.
As a result anyone caught wearing the country’s maroon shirt in public can be fined or imprisoned, with the pressure group Detained in Dubai warning the sentence could be as severe as 15 years in jail.
Following his arrest last week Ahmad, from Wolverhampton, was detained in Sharjah in the UAE.
He was allowed to phone his friend, Amer Lokie, who said: ‘This is just unspeakable.
‘He just went to watch a football match while he was on holiday in UAE and says he was arrested and beaten after being accused of wearing a football shirt which promoted Qatar.
‘When he managed to call me officials were sitting next to him so he couldn’t say too much. He wasn’t given very long to speak to me and I’m not exactly sure what happened.
‘It seems that he was released after being detained, assaulted by security men in the car and accused of promoting Qatar. He went to the police station to report the assault and was accused of telling lies about the incident.
He was said to have been given a ticket to an Asian Cup match between Qatar and Iraq (pictured) and claimed he was arrested for wearing a Qatar shirt
‘We’re not clear about exactly what happened next but he has been held because he is accused of making false allegations against UAE security officials.’
Lokie told The Guardian that his friend sounded scared after his iPhone had been taken off him and he’d been held for two days.
‘He didn’t sound good when he spoke to me on the phone. He was speaking very slowly and he sounded frightened.
‘He begged us to do whatever we can to get him released so we contacted the foreign office and asked them to help get him released.
‘He said he would call us back but since then we have not heard anything from him. I am in shock that he was arrested and assaulted because of the football shirt he was wearing. We are all so worried about him. This is very serious’.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, , said: ‘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 for literally nothing more than wearing a shirt for the ‘wrong’ team.
‘The police have apparently escalated the charge against Ali from ‘showing sympathy for Qatar’ to now ‘making false allegations against UAE security officials’; which could potentially be treated as an act of sedition and thus a national security crime.
‘Both the initial arrest and the escalation of charges are clearly politically motivated acts by the police; and Ali is being victimised merely to send a signal to Qatar in the run-up to the World Cup.
‘This is a gross violation of his rights, and the only signal it sends to the international community is that the UAE is an unsafe destination.’
A Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘We are providing assistance to a British man arrested in the UAE and are in touch with the local authorities’.