Bahrain releases Zulfiqar Naji
BAGHDAD -- Bahrain has released a teenage Iraqi soccer player detained for seven months in Bahrain on suspicion of participating in anti-government protests.
Abdulameer Naji told The Associated Press that his son Zulfiqar Naji, now 17, was released Saturday as a goodwill gesture from the Bahraini government to mark a key Muslim holiday.
Naji said his son, who played on the junior team for Bahraini club Al Muharraq, was seized from their home in Bahrain in April and sentenced to one year in jail.
The Bahraini government confirmed that the Iraqi teenager was among more than 300 prisoners freed after being pardoned by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in honor of Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice.
Zulfiqar Naji's detention sparked angry demonstrations in Iraq and as far away as Canada by people calling for his release. It also prompted the Iraqi government to make a plea to Bahrain on his behalf.
His father said the player planned to return to Baghdad on Monday.
"He was released because he was innocent and this represents a goodwill gesture on the occasion of Eid," his father said.
Bahrain's Sunni monarchy has waged sweeping crackdowns against mostly Shiite protesters calling for greater rights on the strategic Gulf Arab nation, home to the U.S. Navnajy's 5th Fleet.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press