Europe’s ‘selective justice’ on football and human rights
Eric Cantona joins campaign to free Palestinian footballer on hunger strike
Football legend Eric Cantona and world pro footballers’ association calls for release of Mahmoud Sarsak, detained three years in Israel without charge or trial
UEFA criticised for awarding Israel right to host 2013 Under-21 tournament
Media release, Red Card Apartheid
Leading sporting, cultural and academic figures, including football legend Eric Cantona, have thrown their weight behind a campaign in support of Mahmoud Sarsak, a Palestinian footballer from Gaza who is close to death after more than 80 days on hunger strike.
Sarsak, 25, was seized by Israeli authorities in July 2009 when he was a promising young star of the Palestinian national team attempting to travel to the occupied West Bank for a game.
The world professional footballers’ association FIFPro said in a statement: “Sarsak, who had lost about 30 kilos in weight, should be released from jail. He had been detained for three years without charge or trial. His family have not seen him since his initial arrest.”
The organisation said it is “also very concerned about the situation of many other professional footballers in Palestine. . . .There are stories of other players who have been harassed, arrested or even killed.”
In a letter sent on Tuesday to UK Sports Minister Hugh Robertson and UEFA President Michel Platini, football legend Eric Cantona, the UK based Show Racism the Red Card campaign, MIT professor Noam Chomsky, John Dugard, Former Special UN Rapporteur on Palestine and film director Ken Loach, among others, called for the same concern to be shown over racism and human rights abuses in Israel as has been expressed over Poland and Ukraine, the Euro 2012 hosts.
They noted that human rights abuses and violations of international law occur daily in Israel, and ask: “why are these same (government and football) groups silent when Israel is to host the U.E.F.A. Under 21s competition in 2013?”
42 Gazan football clubs wrote a protest letter to UEFA President Michel Platini over a year ago. They have received no reply.
Israeli jails house around 4,000 Palestinian political prisoners, violating Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids the transfer of occupied peoples (Palestinians), to the territory of the occupier (Israel). More than 300 are “administrative detainees” like Sarsak, held without charge or trial.
The letter concludes: “It is time to end Israel’s impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states.”
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Full text of letter
To Sports Minister Hugh Robertson, UEFA President Michel Platini and other European government and sporting bodies:
‘We are all shocked at the racist chanting at football matches in Poland and Ukraine where Euro 2012 is being played. Footballing bodies and politicians have been outspoken in their condemnation. Indeed some government officials are boycotting group stage matches in Ukraine because of perceived human rights abuses in that country.
So why are these same groups silent when Israel is to host the U.E.F.A. Under 21s competition in 2013? Racism, human rights abuses and gross violations of international law are daily occurrences in that country.
Israeli government ministers respond to mob attacks on black refugees by denouncing them as ‘infiltrators’ and calling for them to be imprisoned in military camps.
Israeli jails house around 4,000 Palestinian political prisoners, more than 300 of them “administrative detainees” held without charge or trial. One of these is a footballer from Gaza, Mahmoud Sarsak, aged 25. He has been imprisoned for nearly three years. No charge, no trial. In desperation, he has been on hunger strike for more than 80 days and is now close to death. He, and all victims of abuse by the Israeli state, need our support.
It is time to end Israel’s impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states.’
Signatories (signing in personal capacity):
Eric Cantona, actor and former footballer
Noam Chomsky, Professor MIT, USA
John Dugard, Former Special Rapporteur of UN on Palestine, South Africa
Trevor Griffiths, Writer, UK
Paul Laverty, Screenwriter, UK
Ken Loach, Filmmaker, UK
Michael Mansfield, QC, UK
Miriam Margolyes OBE, Actor, UK
John Pilger, Journalist, author, film maker, Australia
Show Racism the Red Card (http://www.theredcard.org/news/news-and-events?news=3410)
Ahdaf Soueif, Writer, UK
Release Mahmoud Sarsak from prison
FIFPro, the voice of all professional footballers in the world, demands that Mahmoud Sarsak be released from prison. The Palestinian national team player has been imprisoned by the Israeli government for three years without any trial.
On 22 July 2009 Sarsak – who lives in Rafah in the Gaza Strip – was arrested at a checkpoint when he was on his way to the West Bank for a match with his national team. He was interrogated for thirty days and then imprisoned without any trial or a precise legal charge. Family and friends are not allowed to visit him. They do not know why he is being detained for already nearly three years.
According to the Israeli government he is an illegal combatant and therefore they can imprison him indefinitely.
To protest against his condition and lack of civil liberties, Sarsak currently is on a hunger strike. The 25-year old footballer has not eaten for 85 days and has lost approximately thirty kilos in weight. According to human rights organisation Addameer the situation of Mahmoud is critical.
FIFPro is deeply concerned about Sarsak’s health and about his imprisonment and therefore asks for his release from jail.
FIFPro is also very concerned about the situation of many other professional footballers in Palestine. Sarsak is not the only player who is suffering from the actions of the Israeli government. There are stories of other players who have been harassed, arrested or even killed.
For many players in Palestine, there is no real freedom of movement.
‘The freedom of movement is a fundamental right of every citizen”, says Philippe Piat, FIFPro’s vice-president and president of FIFPro Division Europe. ‘It is also written down in the FIFA Regulations that players must be allowed to play for the national team of their country.’
‘But actually for some footballers it is impossible to defend the colours of their country. They cannot cross the border. They cannot visit their family. They are locked up. This is an injustice.’
Last year FIFPro paid two visits to Palestine to visit the footballers, to talk about their problems and to talk about the establishment of a professional footballers’ association in Palestine.
Midfielder Mahmoud al-Sarsak is one of three Palestinian footballers being held without trial in Israel
15 June 2012
The Palestine Football Association (PFA) has asked European football’s governing body Uefa to bar Israel from hosting a tournament next year over Palestinian players in detention.
Israel is due to host the European Under-21 championship in 2013.
PFA President Jibril Rajoub wrote to Uefa to express concern about three Palestinian players who are being held in Israel without charge.
One of them, midfielder Mahmoud al-Sarsak, is on hunger strike.
Mr Sarsak, 25, is one of a handful of Palestinian prisoners who have rejected a deal that ended a mass hunger strike on 14 May.
He has been held for three years under Israel’s “Unlawful Combatants Law”, which allows for Palestinians from Gaza to be detained for an unlimited time without charge or trial.
Last week, human rights groups warned that the former star player was close to death after more than 80 days without food.
Mr Rajoub wrote to Uefa President Michel Platini to say that Israel’s government is in “direct violation” of regulations set out by Fifa, football’s world governing body .
“For athletes in Palestine, there is no real freedom of movement and the risks of being detained or even killed are always looming before their eyes,” he said in the letter.
Israel, however, says Mr Sarsak is being held because he is a threat.
“Mr Sarsak was arrested on the basis of information pointing to his involvement in military activities of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Rafah. This involvement included the planting of explosive devices, recruiting and training terrorist cells, as well as maintaining contacts with PIJ’s militant leaders,” said Israeli government official Amir Ofek.
“Describing him as a ‘young Palestinian footballer’ is insulting to footballers.”
In addition to Mr Sarsak, Olympic squad goalkeeper Omar Abu Rois and Ramallah player Mohammed Nimr are being held in Israel without trial.
On Tuesday, Fifa expressed its concern over the fate of Mr Sarsak and asked Israel’s football association to take action.
Exclusive: Foreign Office confirms no officials will attend Euro championship games in Ukraine over jailed opposition leader
By Luke Harding, guardian.co.uk,
The government is to boycott the Euro 2012 football championship, which begins on Friday, in protest at the “selective justice” being meted out to the jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
The Foreign Office confirmed that no ministers would attend England’s three group-stage matches. England plays its first game against France on Monday in the eastern city of Donetsk.
There will be no official British presence at England’s two other qualifying games, against Sweden on 15 June in Kiev, and against the hosts Ukraine in Donetsk on 19 June.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The government fully supports England’s participation in Euro 2012. We hope this is a successful tournament for the England team, the fans, and the people of Ukraine and Poland.”
But he added: “No ministers will be attending group games at Euro 2012. We are keeping attendance at later stages of the tournament under review in the light of ministers’ busy schedules ahead of the Olympics and widespread concerns about selective justice and the rule of law in Ukraine.”
Several EU countries have announced they will not be attending games in Ukraine. Last month the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that she and her cabinet would not attend any German games played in Ukraine, which is co-hosting the tournament with Poland, unless the human rights situation under President Viktor Yanukovych improved.
The president of the European commission, José Manuel Barroso, and Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for justice, have also confirmed they will not be travelling to Ukraine. The Czech president, Václav Klaus, and Germany’s president, Joachim Gauck, also called off a regional summit last month at the Ukrainian resort of Yalta.
Oleg Voloshyn, the Ukraine foreign ministry spokesman in Kiev, told the Guardian he regretted what he called the UK’s “emotional” decision.
“There are multiple channels to express the British position as far as the Tymoshenko case is concerned. It has already been done in a clear and consistent way.
“The boycott of the sporting event that has nothing to do with politics is a sign that the British government is inclined to resort to emotional rather than deeply calculated steps. [They] damage football but don’t influence in any positive way the situation with the issue that concerns London,” he said.
Diplomats indicated that ministers might turn up to later matches, but probably only in the event that the England team make it through the quarter-finals and reach a semi-final to be played in Poland’s capital Warsaw.
The announcement also follows widespread concern about racism in Ukraine, and a controversial Panorama documentary last week in which the former England defender Sol Campbell warned that England fans travelling to Ukraine might come back “in a coffin”.
The government had earlier indicated it was reviewing the situation. But Downing Street now appears to have lost patience with Yanukovych, who is accused of showing increasingly authoritarian tendencies.
Tymoshenko, the former prime minister, was jailed for seven years in October after what her supporters say was a politically motivated show trial. Yanukovych has refused to release her, despite weeks of EU pressure.
It appears not all government departments were enthusiastic about the Euro 2012 boycott. Shortly before the Foreign Office made its unequivocal statement, the sports minister, Hugh Robertson, put his likely absence from the group stages down to logistics.
“I hope to go, is the honest answer. I hope to support British teams and support British sport. Given the economic backdrop and the weight of what’s in the diary, it’s unlikely we’ll make it during the group stages,” he said.
“It effectively takes two days out of the diary and we haven’t really got two days. We’re keeping it under review and we’ll look at it very closely if we progress through to the qualifying stages.”
Asked about the Panorama expose of racism within Polish and Ukrainian football stadiums, he said taking big sporting events to new territories could help pressure them into change. “Part of the reason for taking sports events to parts of the world that haven’t had them before is precisely to shine a light on these sorts of things,” he said. “The expose wouldn’t have happened without the Panorama programme and the Panorama programme wouldn’t have happened without the European Championships being there.”
Tymoshenko staged a hunger strike in April after photos appeared showing bruises on her body. She claims prison guards assaulted her and punched her in the stomach. Ukrainian prosecutors said her injuries were self-inflicted. She is currently being held in Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, where her condition is being monitored by German doctors.
The city is the venue for Germany’s first group stage match against the Netherlands on 13 June.
The political debacle is a huge embarrassment for Uefa. Football’s governing body in Europe had hoped that expanding the tournament eastwards would showcase the progress made by independent Ukraine since the collapse of communism. Instead it is now looks increasingly likely that Yanukovych will sit in the VIP box on his own, with David Cameron and other European leaders shunning him.
The criticism from western Europe has provoked a sharp response from Kiev. The foreign ministry in Kiev has accused Berlin of cold-war thinking, while officials have suggested that the Germans should refrain from meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs.
The former Labour Europe minister Denis MacShane said on Thursday that Britain should have been the first, not the last, European nation to boycott Euro 2012. MacShane, who raised Tymoshenko’s treatment in the Commons last October, accused William Hague of double standards in taking action against Kiev but not against other worse regimes that abuse human rights. He described Tory human rights policy as a “shambolic mess of incohrent contradictions and double standards.”
He added: “At long last and after weeks of urging Cameron joins Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande in boycotting Ukraine Euro 2012 over the disgusting treatment of Yulia Tymoshenko. But Britain should taken a lead on this…instead of tailing in behind other European leaders. Cameron and Hague show a shaming double standard as they roll out the red carpet for the killers and torturers of Bahrain but now boycott Ukraine, where the treatment of Mrs Tymoshenko is unacceptable, but not as bad as anything in Bahrain.”