Premier League star striker Mohamed Salah’s arrival at the World Cup has been overshadowed by a meeting with a man accused of “torture and extrajudicial killings”.
A slightly confused-looking Salah was met by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov as the Egypt team arrived at its World Cup training camp in Grozny.
Kadyrov, wearing a tracksuit and appearing overjoyed, grasped the Liverpool striker’s hand as they posed for pictures.
“Mohammed Salah is the best footballer in the world, and an overall perfect person,” he said.
The Liverpool striker, who scored 32 Premier League goals in 36 games last season, winning the golden boot, presumably had little choice in the photo-op.
Andrew Stroehlein, from Human Rights Watch, said the World Cup was being used to “boost the most vile of criminals”, claiming Kadyrov was “infamous for torture and extrajudicial killings”.
Along with other organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch recently wrote to FIFA president Gianni Infantino to express concerns about a “human rights crisis in Chechnya”.
For the last decade, their letter said, Kadyrov has “repressed even the mildest dissent”.
“Whether directly through his officials or through proxies acting with impunity, human rights defenders have been threatened, beaten and killed, while their offices have been set on fire,” the groups added.
“Kadyrov’s security forces conduct extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances against suspected Islamist militants and critics of the government and carry out collective punishments.”
The organisations said they had documented such abuses extensively.
It was reported last year that 100 gay men had been locked up and tortured in Chechnya.
But in a TV interview, Mr Kadyrov dismissed the claims as “nonsense”.
“We don’t have any gays,” he said. “If there are any, take them to Canada”.
Kadyrov, who once fought against Russia before switching his loyalty to the Kremlin, was appointed Chechen president by Vladimir Putin in 2007.
He describes the Russian leader as his “idol”, saying he is “ready to die for him, to fulfil any order”.
Salah continues to receive treatment for a shoulder injury he suffered in the Champions League final.
Egypt’s team doctor, Mohamed Abou al-Ela, said the forward “still feels pain” and is unlikely to play in the team’s opening Group A match against Uruguay on Friday.
Egypt are playing in the World Cup finals for the first time in 28 years.