Lionel Messi has been blasted by a human rights charity after deciding to visit Gabon to promote the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
The Barcelona superstar was pictured (above) with Gabonese president Ali Bongo, who has been accused of acting as a dictator and the alleged facilitation of the ritual murder of children.
Messi, who has also denied taking a €3.5m (£2.46m) payment to take part on the trip, was accused by Human Rights Foundation (HRF) president Thor Halvorssen of "seriously undermining" his own charitable foundation.
"In providing PR services to Gabon’s Bongo family, Lionel Messi has seriously undermined the credibility of his own charitable foundation," said Halvorssen.
"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 per cent of the population to live on less than $2 per day."
Alex Gladstein, HRF chief strategy officer, added to the criticism of the Barcelona man.
He 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."
The Oslo Freedom Forum claim that "the rich and powerful in Gabon engage in cannibalism and ritual murders in the belief that it will further increase their influence".
It is also claimed by the HRF that the Bongo family, amid allegations of electoral corruption, have "exerted complete control" over Gabonese politics and society since 1967.
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