By Patrick Johnston
(Reuters) - Two human rights groups have asked world soccer governing body FIFA to withdraw Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa from the race to become president of Asian football, accusing the Bahraini royal of human rights breaches.
In a letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said Sheikh Salman, the head of the Bahrain Football Association (BFA), was not fit for the role.
"Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa is involved in human rights violations with the assistance of his office and consultants against players, administrators, referees and clubs who participated in the democracy protests in February 2011," the two groups wrote in Friday's letter.
"We hope that you bear in mind the sublime principles of sport and fair play that respect basic human rights and to distance all violators of human rights from reaching prestigious sport positions in order to embellish their notorious image."
Sheikh Salman did not respond to requests from Reuters for comment on the accusations, which have followed the 47-year-old throughout his campaign to head Asian soccer.
He is up against Worawi Makudi of Thailand, Saudi Arabian Hafez Ibrahim Al Medlej and United Arab Emirates soccer chief Yousuf Al Serkal with the vote taking place on Thursday in Malaysia.
Sheikh Salman is also running for a seat on FIFA's all powerful executive committee against Qatari Hassan Al Thawadi.
Earlier this month, Sheikh Salman dodged questions about the uprising at a news conference to announce his manifesto pledges in Manama shortly before the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix.
On Tuesday, the Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) sent a letter to Asian Football Confederation delegates urging them not to vote for Sheikh Salman, alleging that soccer players had been persecuted.
"Under the direction of Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa, head of the Bahrain Football Association and member of Bahrain's royal family, football players were arrested, detained, abused, tortured, and publicly humiliated," the group said.
On Thursday, Sheikh Salman issued a statement "vehemently denying" the allegation.
"I can assure anyone that the BFA is being guided according to the highest possible governance standards of integrity and transparency - fully in line with the AFC and FIFA Statutes; and no action has been taken under my direction against any member of the football community," Sheikh Salman said.
"The content of this letter is a clear attempt to damage my personal reputation and to interfere with the AFC Presidential elections taking place in Kuala Lumpur."
(Reporting by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O'Brien)