British soccer fan is held in UAE for wearing a Qatar shirt to an Asian Cup match – and ‘faces 15 YEARS in prison or £100,000 fine’
- Ali Issa Ahmad, 26, from Wolverhampton, was on holiday in Abu Dhabi
- He was given a ticket to the crunch Asian Cup match between Qatar and Iraq
- The UAE banned shows of symathy towards Qatar after a diplomatic dispute
- As a result people can be given fines or prison sentences for promoting Qatar
A British football fan could face 15 years in prison or a £100,000 fine after he was held in the United Arab Emirates for wearing a Qatar shirt to a football match.
Arsenal supporter Ali Issa Ahmad, 26, was on holiday in Abu Dhabi when he was given a ticket to an Asian Cup match between Qatar and Iraq.
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.
Ali Issa Ahmad, 26, (pictured) was detained while on holiday in the United Arab Emirates earlier this month
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.
‘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.
He was said to have been given a ticket to an Asian Cup match between Qatar and Iraq (pictured) and arrested for wearing a Qatar shirt
‘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.’
The Foreign Office is warning tourists that showing sympathy for Qatar on social media or otherwise is an offence punishable by a fine of imprisonment.
In June 2017 Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt launched a diplomatic and transport blockade of the tiny Gulf state accusing it of cosying up to Iran and supporting terrorism, which Doha denies.
On Friday Qatar lifted the Asian Cup after beating Japan in the Final. It was the first time the country had won the competition – the Asian equivalent of the Euros.
Qatar fans stayed away because they are not allowed to travel directly to the UAE and feared harassment when they got there. But many local Kuwaiti and Omani football fans did support the team.
Things turned sour, however, when Qatar beat Saudi Arabia in the Group Stage and UAE in the semi finals.
Home fans registered their displeasure by throwing sandals at the Qatari players as a sign of their disgust.
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’.