Bahrain files extradition papers for footballer-refugee

Bahrain files extradition papers for footballer-refugee

Hakeem Al Araibi, a former member of Bahrain's national football team who holds a refugee status in Australia, arrives at court Dec 11 following his detention by the Immigration Bureau in November. (Reuters photo)
Hakeem Al Araibi, a former member of Bahrain's national football team who holds a refugee status in Australia, arrives at court Dec 11 following his detention by the Immigration Bureau in November. (Reuters photo)

DUBAI: Bahrain's government has submitted documents for the extradition of Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahraini refugee footballer held in prison in Thailand.

A Bahrain government statement confirmed it has submitted the formal extradition request.

"(Hakeem) al-Araibi was arrested in Thailand and proceedings to extradite him to Bahrain are in process so that he can serve his sentence," said an official Bahrain government statement issued by Bahraini Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa 

The statement said that proceedings to extradite him to Bahrain are ongoing and criticised what he described as "external interference" in Manama's internal affairs. 

"Those who speak now of Araibi having been mistreated and those who question the integrity of Bahrain’s courts ignore the fact that Araibi was released on bail of 100 dinars by the courts," the statement added.

The statement said Bahrain has filed the formal extradition demand with the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Football activists campaigning for his release say his plight has become an emergency.

Former Australia captain Craig Foster, in Zurich for a meeting with Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura, said, "This matter has become an absolute emergency. We want it to be resolved this week, before Friday." Ms Samoura had previously demanded Thailand release Araibi back to Australia.

Araibi, 25, who played for Bahrain's national youth team, fled his homeland and was granted asylum in Australia where he plays semi-professionally in Melbourne.

He was detained in late November while entering Thailand on Australian travel papers for a vacation.

Interpol has faced criticism for initially issuing the warrant for his arrest, which it later withdrew.

Araibi, who has refugee status in Australia and is a vocal critic of Bahrain's government, was convicted of vandalising a police station in 2014. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia and has denied wrongdoing.

Araibi was detained at Suvarhabhumi airport on the legally invalid Interpol Red Notice when he arrived for his honeymoon. Under Thai law, Bahrain had until Feb 8 to file a formal request for his extradition, or to request another 30-day detention extension.

He is being held at the Bangkok Remand Prison.

Thai authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne had urged Thai authorities to release Araibi while rights groups have said he was persecuted for political reasons.

Bahraini authorities have said Araibi can return to appeal against the sentence, noting that others arrested with Araibi who have done so have been acquitted.

The minister said Araibi, who was allowed to travel with the national soccer team while on bail, had fled to Iran from Qatar "never to return".

Araibi was granted asylum in Australia, where he now plays, in 2017 after fleeing Bahrain three years earlier.

He was a critic of Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s ruling family and cousin of the king, when he contested the Fifa presidential election in 2015. Sheikh Salman is president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

The AFC said last week that the president had been recused from all matters relating to West Asia and AFC vice-president Praful Patel was working with global governing body Fifa “to find a solution” to the matter of Araibi's detention.

Human Rights Watch said Araibi was tortured by Bahraini authorities because of his brother's political activities during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011. Bahraini authorities deny allegations of torture. 

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