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Human Rights Foundation criticises Lionel Messi for visit to Gabon

The organisation demanded that Messi issue a statement condemning the president's rule in the country, who they stated as corrupt and oppressive.

Lionel Messi Gabon Barcelona
Messi’s attire while meeting the president had also come in for sharp criticism

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has been criticised by the Human Rights Foundation for his visit to Gabon, ESPN FC reports. The non-profit organisation lashed out at Messi for his alleged support to the nation’s president who has been accused of electoral fraud and various human rights abuses.

The four-time World Footballer of the Year’s trip to the African nation has courted controversy previously as well with Gabon’s opposition political party hitting out at Messi for not dressing appropriately while meeting the president. There were also accusations that the player was paid £2.5 million for his visit. 

The organisation stated that Gabon has one of the most repressive and corrupt regimes in the world and Messi’s visit to a nation that in spite of its vast resources has one-third of its population below the poverty line was in bad taste.

“In providing PR services to Gabon's Bongo family, Lionel Messi has seriously undermined the credibility of his own charitable federation,” said Human Rights Foundation president Thor Halvorssen on HRF’s official website.

Messi should not have visited Gabon as a UNICEF ambassador: HRF

The organisation also pointed fingers at alleged child right abuses in Gabon. 

"Whereas Messi claims to support children's rights, and even serves as a UNICEF ambassador to promote youth education, he has endorsed a kleptocratic regime that refuses to investigate the ritual murder of children in Gabon,” said Halvorssen.

Messi had gone on an official visit to lay the foundation stone at one of the venues for the African Cup of Nations but also visited a state-run hospital and attended an inauguration event at a restaurant owned by the president’s family – something which didn’t go down well with the HRF.

Halvorssen said: "Messi's trip is part of the Bongo family's PR campaign to promote the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, which Gabon will host at enormous expense despite the fact that the Bongo family's embezzlement has left 20 percent of the population to live on less than $2 per day."

The organisation demanded that Messi not only issue an apology but release a statement condemning the president’s dictatorial rule and felt that Messi should have been more careful before embarking on the trip.

“It’s shocking, given the recent public humiliation endured by Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey and Kanye West, that Messi's management and the athlete himself would consider putting his prestige at the service of a serial human rights abuser,” said HRF Chief Strategy Officer Alex Gladstein.

“If Messi wants to do good in Gabon, HRF recommends that rather than partying with oppressors, he release a statement in solidarity with the country’s persecuted dissidents and environmentalists, and press the regime to investigate the ritual murders of children,” said Gladstein.

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