March 20 – A Bangladesh court has decided to grant bail to FIFA council member Mahfuza Akhter Kiron just days after she was arrested for allegedly defaming the country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for saying nothing more than that she was neglecting football in the cricket-mad country.
Kiron, who heads women’s football in her country, was initially refused bail after being arrested for making her comments on a television talk show which, according to her detractors, were derogatory and embarrassed the entire nation.
Kiron was elected to the FIFA Council in 2017 and is also a member of the Asian Football Confederation’s Executive Committee and Women’s Committee.
Hasina’s administration has recently been accused of cracking down on free speech and adopting an increasingly authoritarian style. But her bail apparently had nothing to do with the fact that FIFA was now watching the case carefully.
“The court granted her bail until April 2 … basically on medical grounds as she is receiving cancer treatment,” her lawyer, Liakat Hossain, told Reuters.
Yet her bail was agreed within a day of FIFA announcing its concern about the case. “FIFA is monitoring this matter with concern and working closely with the AFC,” it said in a statement. “We have requested further details about the situation of Ms. Mahfuza Akhter and are currently awaiting information from the Bangladesh Football Federation.”
If found guilty, Mahfuza could face up to two years in prison. Her arrest triggered criticism from rights groups including Amnesty International.
“Championing football is not a crime. Mahfuza Akhter Kiron was merely exercising her right to freedom of expression by stating that the Prime Minister favoured cricket over football,” said Saad Hammadi, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International.
“If the implications of a defamation case were not so serious, it would be laughable. Mahfuza Akhter Kiron must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
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