Wednesday 23 January 2019

Human Rights group hits out over Salah photo with Chechen leader

Egypt and Liverpool star Mo Salah alongside Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov at a training session in Grozny. Photo: AP
Egypt and Liverpool star Mo Salah alongside Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov at a training session in Grozny. Photo: AP

Ben Rumsby

Serious doubt has been cast over the wisdom of Mo Salah's Egypt basing themselves in Chechnya for the World Cup after he was paraded around a Grozny stadium by Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic.

Liverpool star Salah was pictured posing with the Chechen leader on Sunday night within hours of his country's arrival in the war-torn region, with his use as a propaganda tool condemned by human-rights campaigners and on social media.

Under the Vladimir Putin-backed Kadyrov, Chechnya has enforced strict Islamic rules, with numerous reports of of extrajudicial killings and torture in the republic.

He dismissed concerns over a broad crackdown on homosexuality by insisting there were no gays in the region.

It emerged yesterday that Salah - recovering from his Champions League final shoulder injury - had been relaxing in his hotel room on Sunday when he was informed an important guest had dropped in unexpectedly.

When Salah went down to the lobby, he found Kadyrov, who asked the forward to accompany him to the stadium where the rest of Egypt's World Cup squad were training in front of several thousand local fans.

Salah obliged, and the two showed up at the ground named after Kadyrov's assassinated father to a standing ovation and loud cheers by the fans.

"This is Kadyrov trying to capitalise on Chechnya being a team base to boost his own profile... it was 100 per cent predictable," said Rachel Denber, the Human Rights Watch deputy director for Europe and central Asia.

"He revels in the spotlight. He also has a ruthless grip on Chechnya. He has sought to obliterate any kind of political advocacy or human rights work."

Kadyrov, who sports the hallmark beard of the ultra-conservative Muslims known as Salafis, is a former rebel who switched his loyalties to Moscow following two devastating separatist wars in the 1990s.

He has been the dominant figure in Chechnya since the 2004 assassination of his father, President Akhmad Kadyrov.

The Egypt team's executive director, Eihab Leheita, said yesterday he had "no regrets whatsoever" about the choice of Grozny as a base for the all-Muslim squad. He also brushed off a question about the encounter between Salah and Kadyrov, adding "ask FIFA for a comment." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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