Bahrain arrests sports stars over uprising

Samuelson Owono Ngongo, 23, left, and Josef Kanga, 21, right, both professional soccer players from Cameroon, sit outside a local restaurant Monday, April 25, 2011, in the Shiite Muslim village of Malkiya, Bahrain. Ngongo and Kanga, who play for Malkiya Club, said they will return home Friday after weeks of no soccer. AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Three players from Bahrain's national football team have been detained and six clubs have withdrawn from domestic leagues following widespread, anti-government protests, the Bahrain Football Association said Monday.

Meanwhile, the pro-democracy group Youth of Feb. 14 Revolution has launched a Facebook campaign calling on Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone not to reschedule the Bahrain Grand Prix "until basic human rights and freedoms are restored." Bahrain has until May 1 to decide if it wants to reschedule the race which was canceled March 13 due to the unrest.

The moves are the latest illustration of the effects on sport of the anti-government protests that began Feb. 14 and have left 30 people dead.

The action against the footballers is part of a widespread government crackdown on dissent following protests that have resulted in journalists, bloggers, doctors, lawyers and activists being detained. More than 150 athletes, coaches and referees also have been suspended since April 5 for their alleged involvement in protests against the country's Sunni rulers.

Complete coverage: Anger in the Arab World

Sheik Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, the vice president of the Bahrain FA, acknowledged the three players have been detained but could provide no further information. He said the clubs — two in the top division and four in the second — have withdrawn from the league which resumed two weeks ago due to "pressure from Shiite political groups."

Al Khalifa said all could be fined for their refusal to play as well as other sanctions including relegation.

"Some of the clubs during the problems refrained from participating," Al Khalifa said. "We haven't suspended anyone. They are just not participating. There is a fine and punishment of course."

However, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights says the clubs from mostly Shiite villages were suspended last week from the league for two years and fined $20,000. Along with football teams, the clubs sponsor a range of sports in their communities.

Mohammed al-Maskati, the group's president, said clubs had stopped playing during the protests partly because they felt it was too dangerous and also as an act of demonstration over the deaths of protesters.

But he said that when the clubs announced they were ready to resume playing, the authorities slapped the suspension and fines on them.

"They could not work normally when protesters are killed in their villages," Al-Maskati said.

"The authorities want to tell them that you are supporting the protests and this is the punishment. It's not fair," he said. "Just because you are a sportsman doesn't mean it's wrong to be political. Everyone in the world has ideas about something. Everyone has the right to get involved."

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