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Barcelona launch campaign to support Lionel Messi after tax fraud conviction

Barcelona have launched a campaign urging fans to "express their sympathy" in support of forward Lionel Messi after he appealed against a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud imposed by a Catalan court.

Messi and his father, Jorge, were sentenced on Wednesday after a Barcelona court found them both guilty of three counts of defrauding the tax department to the tune of €4.1million.

Under Spanish law, sentences under two years are usually suspended but, nonetheless, Barca have called on supporters to voice their "unconditional support on social networks".

A statement on www.fcbarcelona.com read: "FC Barcelona has set up a campaign in support of Leo Messi following the sentence issued this week against the Argentinian and his father.

"Using the hashtag #WeAreAllLeoMessi while posting a photo or message with both hands open, the campaign is encouraging all Barca fans to express their sympathy for the greatest footballer in the world by voicing their unconditional support on social networks.

"By making it clear that #WeAreAllMessi, we want Leo to know that he is not alone. All members, supporters clubs, fans, athletes, media and everyone else are invited to participate."