By Anthony Harwood/London Correspondent
A friend of a British football fan who claimed he was detained in the United Arab Emirates for wearing a Qatar shirt laughed at suggestions the tourist beat himself up.
Student Amer Lokie, 23, spoke out after 26-year-old Ali Essa Ahmed was charged with ‘wasting police time and making false statements’.
The UAE embassy in London said Ahmed claimed he ‘had been harassed and beaten up by the UAE national football fans for cheering the Qatar team at the AFC club tournament.
‘The police took him to (the) hospital, where a doctor who examined him concluded his injuries were inconsistent with his account of events and appeared to be self-inflicted’.
But Lokie, who spoke to Ahmed in a seven-minute phone call after his friend was arrested, laughed at what the UAE authorities were suggesting.
"It’s shocking," he said. "Why would somebody go on holiday to enjoy themselves, watch the football, then injure themselves and go to a police station – it just doesn’t make sense."
Lokie, a computer science student at Kingston University, got to know the Arsenal fan through playing football together and the pair would sometimes meet up.
He said his friend worked hard at a chocolate factory in Wolverhampton and was not a trouble-maker.
‘He’s not political at all’ he said. ‘He loves football so much, supports Arsenal and Real Madrid. He’s a very quiet guy, and works all the time’.
Ahmed was arrested after going to watch an Asian Cup match last month between Qatar and Iraq being played in Abu Dhabi, as the UAE were tournament hosts.
He told Lokie that he had been given two Qatar shirts by other fans, one which he was wearing and the other he was carrying, when he was set upon by security guards as he left the Al Nahyan Stadium at the end of the game, which Qatar won 1-0.
Since joining a Saudi Arabian-led boycott of Qatar in June 2017 the UAE has made showing sympathy to the tiny Gulf state a criminal offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison or a £105,000 fine.
Lokie, from Ladbroke Grove, West London, who like Ahmed has dual British-Sudan citizenship, said: "Ali told me that as he was leaving the stadium he was assaulted by security people who came up and said he was promoting Qatar. He said they attacked him when he refused to take off his shirt and ended up getting it off him by force.
"When he went to the police to report what had happened they said he was lying and put him in a cell for two days. He said he didn’t sleep and was very confused because they didn’t tell him why he was being held.
‘He told them: ‘ I have come to ask for help. I have been beaten up’. But they took him back to the prison and told him to admit making things up – which he refused to do. They wanted him to say nobody beat him up and he wasn’t holding anyone accountable.
"I am very worried about him. Ali is a simple person – not someone who makes trouble’.
Radha Stirling, of the campaign group Detained in Dubai, said what had happened to Ahmed was ‘extremely concerning’.
‘This is not the first time an official government version of events drastically differs from that provided by an expat in UAE custody,’ she said.
"What we know is that the UAE does prosecute anyone who expresses sympathy for Qatar in any way; we know that Qatari football officials were barred entry into the country; we know that Qatari fans were not allowed into the UAE to support their team, and that local fans threw sandals at Qatari players during the matches.
"Tensions are running extremely high; and we know what Ali Issa Ahmad conveyed to his friends and family about having been arrested and beaten. If he has been forced to recant those allegations, and is now being punished for having reported them to police in the first place, it is extremely concerning."
Former Leeds United managing director David Haigh, who was imprisoned in the UAE, said :" The Dubai jails are a cesspit of torture, injustice, discrimination and abuse."
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