Australia urges Thailand to release Bahrain footballer

Australia urges Thailand to release Bahrain footballer

An image from video shows Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali AlAraib speaking at Suvarnabhumi airport on Nov 29, 2018. (SBS via AP photo)
An image from video shows Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali AlAraib speaking at Suvarnabhumi airport on Nov 29, 2018. (SBS via AP photo)

MELBOURNE/CANBERRA: Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne urged Thai authorities on Sunday to release a footballer who holds refugee status in Australia and who has been detained in Bangkok since late November.

Hakeem AlAraibi, a former member of Bahrain's national soccer team who has been critical of the country's government, was arrested at Suvarnabhumi airport on Nov 27 based on an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain's request.

AlAraibi was convicted of vandalising a police station in Bahrain and sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia. He has denied wrongdoing.

"Australia is concerned by the ongoing detention of Mr Hakeem Ali AlAraibi and calls for his immediate return to Australia," Payne said in a statement published on the ministry's website.

"Returning Mr AlAraibi to Bahrain, from where he fled, would contravene his rights under international human rights law."

At a court hearing on Friday, AlAraibi was served with a formal arrest warrant, which could pave the way for a possible extradition to Bahrain.

Bahrain's embassy in Thailand said on Twitter in early December that AlAraibi "is wanted for security cases".

AlAraibi told Human Rights Watch on Friday that if he is sent back to Bahrain his life "is in danger". He had said previously he was tortured in Bahrain and fled in 2014 to Australia, which granted him political asylum in 2017.

He has been a vocal critic of the president of the Asian Football Federation, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, who is a cousin of the king. He was tortured by Bahraini authorities because of his brother's political activities during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, Human Rights Watch said.

Fifa, world soccer's ruling body, has also called on the Thai authorities to allow for the return of AlAraibi to Australia at "the earliest possible moment".

Payne said that she has raised AlAraibi's matter with Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

"Australia has made, and will continue to make, high-level diplomatic representations seeking Mr AlAraibi's safe return," Payne said in the statement.

Immigration Bureau chief Surachate Hakparn said AlAraibi is being held legally following a request from Bahrain's government. He had travelled to Thailand on a holiday with his wife.

"The Australian consul got to visit him already,'' Pol Maj Gen Surachate said. "We have provided nice halal meals for him three times a day. We are enforcing the law in line with international standards.''

AlAraibi told BBC Thai, in English via telephone from the Suanplu immigration detention centre, that from last Friday he planned to go on a hunger strike because he was unable to see his wife, who was already released, and that he wants to return to Australia.

"I want to go back to Australia because Australia has human rights while Bahrain doesn't,'' he said.

He said his future is "doomed'' if he is sent to Bahrain.

"I don't know what will happen to me. I know that I would be tortured and forced to confess to things I've never done.''

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