Published: Wed, February 06, 2019
World Media | By Shelia Harmon

Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi to fight extradition in Thai court

Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi to fight extradition in Thai court

Hakeem Al Araibi, a jailed Bahraini footballer who fled his country and has refugee status in Australia, arrived on Monday in a Thai court, his feet in shackles, to fight an extradition request from Bahrain.

Al-Araibi, who plays for the semi-professional team Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne, was granted refugee status and protection by Australia after fleeing Bahrain in 2014.

The hearing was adjourned until April 22 to allow for their legal teams to prepare their cases. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has castigated Manama for the reprisal detention of relatives of London-based Bahraini human rights activist Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei, and called for their release. The island kingdom, a staunch ally of Saudi Arabia, has intensified its clampdown on political dissent since the 2011 Arab Spring.

Araibi was stopped at Bahrain's request at a Bangkok airport in November when he arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon. It says he has opportunities to appeal his conviction in the country's courts.

"We believe if Hakeem is not released there have to be some sanctions levied on Bahrain and Thailand", worldwide players' union FIFPro's vice president Francis Awaritefe, a former Australian football player, told reporters outside the court.

'Australia is with you, buddy, ' Mr Foster reportedly shouted as Al-Araibi walked by.

Rights groups say if Al-Araibi is extradited to Bahrain, he could face an unfair trial, imprisonment and torture. FIFPro, the global representative organisation for footballers, has been central in attempts to see Hakeem returned to Australia, while Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) has called on both Federation Internationale de Football Association and the AFC to exercise their power to help him.

A court filing made last week by Thai prosecutors noted that while Thailand and Bahrain do not have an extradition treaty, extradition is still possible by law if Bahrain makes an official request, which they did, and if the crime is punishable by over a year, is not politically motivated or a military violation.

"I think the facts of this case are a very simple one".

Campaigners have urged Thailand not to extradite Hakeem al-Araibi to his home country, where he faces a ten-year sentence for attacking a police station, a charge he denies. "And therefore under global law, he should not be a subject of these proceedings", he said.

The player has said he believes he is being targeted over his criticism of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's ruling family.

Araibi has said he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten while he was held in Bahrain previously. "Don't be pushed around by Bahrain and just let him go home", Foster said.

Bahrain has a Shiite majority population but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.

Professional Footballers Australia chief executive John Didulica in a statement called the detention "a flagrant breach of (al-Araibi's) internationally accepted human rights as an Australian permanent resident and refugee".

According to Human Rights Watch, Al Araibi was detained and tortured by the Bahraini authorities because of his brother's political activities.

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