Fifa to Prayut: Release Bahraini footballer

Fifa to Prayut: Release Bahraini footballer

Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura, seen here with Fifa president Gianni Infantino at a meeting in Egypt, has written to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to request the release of Bahraini football player Hakeem al-Araibi. (AFP)
Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura, seen here with Fifa president Gianni Infantino at a meeting in Egypt, has written to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to request the release of Bahraini football player Hakeem al-Araibi. (AFP)

World football's nominal leaders have asked Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the government to release the Bahraini football player embroiled in extradition proceedings despite having refugee status in Australia.

Fifa Secretary General Fatma Samoura called for an urgent "humane outcome" to the case of Hakeem al-Araibi, who lives in Melbourne but was arrested on arrival for a vacation in November on what turned out to be an illegal Interpol Red Notice.

Bahrain wants its former national team player returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence that was handed down in absentia after he was accused of vandalising a police station - a charge he plausibly denies.

In an emailed letter, Samoura asked Prime Minister Prayut "to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr. AI-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia at the earliest possible moment, in accordance with the relevant international standards.

"We strongly believe that this course of action will do justice not only to Thailand's obligations under international law, but also to basic human and humanitarian values, which we know your country and government hold dear."

The Asian Football Confederation, which is led by Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's royal family, would not say if it endorsed the appeal from Fifa.

Araibi has had personal and public conflicts with Sheikh Salman over politics. It has appeared to many that the AFC boss has deliberately blocked confederation requests on behalf of the detained Araibi.

AFC spokesman Colin Gibson said in a written response that the governing body "is working with Fifa on this issue ... along with other stakeholders."

Bahrain has a Shia majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and has a reputation for harsh repression since its failed "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011, in which Araibi's brother participated and Araibi played a minor role.

Araibi has said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shia faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain.

Araibi has also said he was tortured in Bahrain after his 2012 arrest and fled in 2014 to Australia, which granted him political asylum in 2017 and where he now plays for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale Football Club.

"This situation should not have arisen in particular, since Mr AI-Araibi now lives, works and plays as a professional footballer in Australia, where he has been accorded refugee status," Samoura wrote in her letter to Gen Prayut.

"When according refugee status to Mr AI-Araibi, the Australian authorities concluded that Mr AI-Araibi is at serious risk of mistreatment in his home country. As stated publicly on several occasions, Fifa is therefore respectfully urging the authorities of the Kingdom of Thailand to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr AI-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia at the earliest possible moment, in accordance with the relevant international standards."

Samoura said she wants to meet the Thai government with player union officials.

"We look forward to your timely response on this urgent request and sincerely thank you for your efforts towards a humane outcome of this matter," Samoura said.


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