Riyadh/Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat – A Saudi prisoner, who wishes to remain anonymous, informed Asharq Al-Awsat in a telephone interview from Iraq that Saudi prisoners have been subjected to what he described as “racist” abuse from prison guards. He claimed that the prisoners have fallen victim to recent political and sporting events, and called for officials from both the Saudi and Iraqi sides to move quickly to resolve their case.
The prisoner said, “Some of the guards beat and kicked us after the cup final between the UAE and Iraq”. The match was won by the UAE, who were subsequently crowned champions of the 21st Gulf Cup, and it was refereed by the Saudi Khalil Al Ghamdi.
The prisoner’s remarks are consistent with statements made by Thamer Al Belahid, chairman of the Commission of Saudi prisoners in Iraq, who announced yesterday that twenty Saudi prisoners experienced significant abuse inside Iraqi jails after the recent Gulf Cup final between the UAE and Iraq in Manama. He pointed out that the inmates received severe beatings and insults, in addition to other harsh punishments.
For their part, the Iraqi authorities denied that any Saudi prisoner had been subjected to torture or abuse in an Iraqi prison following the Gulf Cup final. An official spokesman for the Iraqi interior ministry, Lt. Col. Saad Maan Ibrahim, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “such reports are completely untrue and neither logical nor reasonable”. He added, “Iraq plays football matches all the time. We did not witness anything negative in its recent match with the UAE, nor was the Saudi referee unfair towards the Iraqi team”.
He pointed out that “in football there is a winner and a loser. Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki congratulated the Emirati president on the win that his country deserved. Furthermore the Iraqis, both the people and the government, are not upset with the Iraqi national team. The team has been welcomed home because it performed well at all stages of the tournament”.
The Iraqi official stressed, “These remarks are intended to cause a rift between our Arab brothers for reasons unknown”. However, the Iraqi prime minister was of a different opinion, saying he felt his team had been treated unfairly.
During a meeting with the Iraqi national team on Thursday evening, immediately after their return from Bahrain, Maliki stated he felt aggrieved about the way his team had been treated in the Gulf Cup final, but they had still won over the nation.
Finally, Ghanim Al-Jumaily, Iraq’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, expressed his hope that a prisoner transfer agreement between his country and Saudi Arabia will be established as soon as possible, adding that several factors have slowed down the process thus far, most notably Iraq’s recent political circumstances. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday, Jumaily said that the issue of foreign detainees is a matter for the justice and interior ministries of both countries, but revealed that the Iraqi embassy, for its part, is making every effort to provide information to the officials and those concerned. He added that there are currently more than one hundred Iraqi prisoners in Saudi Arabia, mostly accused of drug smuggling and illegal border crossings, in addition to some personal crimes, while Iraqi prisons currently hold around sixty five Saudi inmates.