Murtaza, a 5 year old Afghan boy, was forced to flee Afghanistan after receiving threats from the Taliban for wearing a jersey signed by Lionel Messi.
Murtaza had made headlines earlier this year when photographs of the boy wearing a Messi jersey made out of plastic bags went viral on the internet.
Soon after, the boy’s family received telephone threats and a letter from the Taliban. Mohammad Arif Ahmadi, the boy’s father, recounted, “In the letter, the Taliban asked why my son was not learning the Quran in an Islamic school and why I was instead allowing him and encouraging him to play football…Life became a misery for us”. As the threats became more serious, Ahmadi fled with his family to neighbouring Pakistan.
Reportedly, Taliban considers sports anti-Islamic. Although certain sports were banned under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan it is uncertain whether the ban included football. In any case, there was an absolute ban on participation of Afghan women in sports and the Kabul football stadium was a venue for public executions by the Taliban.
This incident is illustrative of the fact that while the Taliban is no longer in power, it does exert considerable influence over the Afghan people. There have been recent reports of media persons and film-makers fleeing Afghanistan because they expressed anti-Taliban sentiments. This has led to the creation of many Afghan refugees worldwide. In India alone, there were 10, 395 refugees from Afghanistan registered with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In order to successfully seek asylum (under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees), a refugee must fulfil a number of requirements. One of the requirements is that the refugee must be able to show “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. If Murtaza’s family seeks asylum, it might have difficulty establishing persecution on the basis of the grounds mentioned in the 1951 Convention.
Football is one of the most popular sports in Afghanistan along with cricket and it is unfortunate if football fans in the country have to flee Afghanistan for fear of persecution by the Taliban.