Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah has drawn heavy criticism from human rights activists for posing in photos with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on his first day in Russia ahead of the World Cup.
The Liverpool forward arrived on Sunday in the Chechen capital of Grozny, where the Egyptian squad will be located during the month-long tournament which starts on Friday.
Kadyrov requested to meet the 25-year-old Liverpool superstar and was persuaded to travel to the Akhmat Arena stadium. Salah obliged, however, Kadyrov has been accused of using the Egyptian star’s high profile for political propaganda.
Human Rights Watch's European media director, Andrew Stroehlein, tweeted Monday: "As expected, torturers and murderers are being praised on the world stage..."
He was criticising FIFA’s decision to authorise Chechnya as a World Cup training base, adding that he did not blame Salah.
Chechnya has come under fire for its record on human rights abuses. The US designated him as a human rights abuser following a report published last year, in which it alleged gay men were detained and tortured in secret Chechen prisons.
Kadyrov denies that gay men exist in the North Caucasus republic, a claim that Moscow does not dispute.
Facebook and Instagram blocked Kadyrov’s accounts last year after the US blacklisted him for allegedly coordinating human rights abuses in Russia’s Muslim-majority region.
The controversial leader commented earlier this week: "We’ll use this opportunity in full. Russia’s enemies have poured a lot of bile trying to trip up Russia on its way to the tournament. But Russian President Vladimir Putin and his team have proven that there are no challenges that our great motherland Russia is powerless against."