The Barcelona play-maker Lionel Messi has come under more attack following his recent visit to Gabon.
Messi who was accused of showing “a lack of respect for standards and principles” after he met the President Ali Bongo wearing denim shorts and a T-shirt last month, was again condemned by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), who accused him of “partying with oppressors” in his visit to Gabon, last month.
A statement issued on July 23, by the Union du Peuple Gabonais party, the opposition party in Gabon reads:
“The messiah of football arrived in Gabon like he were going to a zoo: dirty, unshaven and his hands in his pockets, looking for peanuts to throw to them!
“When you’re called Lionel Messi and you’re a multi-billionaire, you don’t have the right to present yourself to officials of a republic, even a banana one, with your hands in the pockets of a ripped, tattered pair of shorts.
“Gabon isn’t a zoo. We don’t know what the Argentine came to Gabon for, but we at least have the right to denounce his negligence and his lack of respect for standards and principles. We are uneasy with Messi’s attitude and his attire. Only for these reasons, linked to respect for the host country, do we condemn the footballer’s indelicateness, to say the least!”
Just a week after this statement, another group, the HRF condemned Messi on his visit to the country, Goal.com reports.
The Barcelona star was pictured with Gabon dictator Ali Bongo after helping lay a foundation stone for a planned new venue for the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2017, as he also visited a state-run hospital and a restaurant owned by the Bongo family.
While the Gabon government has actively denied reports that Messi was paid a seven-figure sum to attend the country in July, he has nonetheless been criticized for showing public support for the Bongo regime.
President Bongo has been accused of electoral fraud in the past, as well as certain human rights abuses, including the refusal to sanction investigations into the killing of children.
"In providing PR services to Gabon's Bongo family, Lionel Messi has seriously undermined the credibility of his own charitable foundation," said Human Rights Foundation president Thor Halvorssen.
He added: "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.
"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% of the population to live on less than $2 per day."
Alex Gladstein, HRF chief strategy officer said: "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.
"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."
Bongo himself claimed during the visit that Messi's appearance was simply due to a promise he made in an earlier meeting in Barcelona.
"When I was in Barcelona a few years ago, I met Messi who had told me that he would come to visit me in Libreville," he said.
"It's a promise he made me. He is a man of honour who just kept his word."