Wife of jailed Bahraini footballer begs PM for his release

Wife of jailed Bahraini footballer begs PM for his release

Prison guards escort Bahraini football player Hakeem al-Araibi from a court in Bangkok on Dec 11, 2018. (AP file photo)
Prison guards escort Bahraini football player Hakeem al-Araibi from a court in Bangkok on Dec 11, 2018. (AP file photo)

The wife of jailed Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi pleaded with Thailand's prime minister on Wednesday to ensure he is not extradited to his native country, saying he faces torture there and should be sent back to asylum in Australia.

"He would go back to face imprisonment, torture and possible death. Please help my husband. I don't want to lose him," Mr Araibi's wife wrote on Wednesday in an open letter to Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.

"I am terrified that the final decision to deport him will take place within the next few days," she said in the letter, which was obtained from Mr Araibi's lawyer.

Lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman said the wife has asked for her name not to be published out of fear of her safety.

Mr Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and was later granted asylum in Australia, was arrested in Bangkok in November on an Interpol notice - since cancelled - issued at Bahrain's request.

He was convicted of vandalising a police station in Bahrain and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia. He denies wrongdoing, saying he was playing in a televised football match at the time of the alleged vandalism.

Human rights groups say Bahraini authorities tortured Mr Araibi because of his brother's political activities during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011. Bahraini authorities deny allegations of torture.

Mr Araibi's wife said in her letter the newlywed couple travelled from Australia to Thailand "because we thought it would be the perfect country to have our honeymoon" but instead found themselves in a nightmare of arrest and detention.

She asked Gen Prayut to show the same concern for those fleeing torture as Thailand did in the case of 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who fled what she said was family abuse to Thailand and was quickly resettled to Canada earlier this month.

Thai government officials were not immediately available for comment on Wednesday but Gen Prayut told reporters on Tuesday Mr Araibi's case was a matter for Thailand's courts.

He acknowledged the concerns of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who wrote to the junta leader this week urging that Mr Araibi not be extradited.

Mr Morrison emphasised that the footballer’s case was an important matter to him personally, as well as to the Australian government and Australian people, his office said. He noted that Mr Araibi has a permanent protection visa issued by Australia, that the government only issues such visas after a careful process, and that Australia considers him a refugee.

Mr Araibi has also been a vocal critic of the president of the Asian Football Confederation, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, who is a cousin of the Bahraini king.

Sheikh Salman has recused himself from the Araibi case and the AFC joined soccer's world governing body FIFA this week in urging Thailand to allow Araibi to return to Australia.

Mr Araibi said he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten while he was held in Bahrain in 2012. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active. Bahrain has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and has a reputation for harsh repression since the uprising in 2011.

Gen Prayut made clear he was concerned about upsetting Thailand’s relations with Bahrain.

"We are good friends with everyone. We have to figure out the solution. I know that everybody is concerned about this," Gen Prayut said.

Bahrain's interior minister issued a statement Tuesday asserting that the country has a legitimate claim in asking for Mr Araibi's extradition and accusing critics of its justice system of interfering in the country's internal affairs.

“Those raising unfounded doubts about the integrity and independence of the kingdom's judicial system are not only interfering, but also attempting to influence the course of justice,” the statement said.

It said Mr Araibi was convicted of participating in a “terrorism” case involving “an arson attack, possession of inflammable bombs and causing damage to public and private property.”

Human Rights Watch's Asia director, Brad Adams, said Thailand would make a “huge mistake” if it extradites Mr Araibi because “global opinion and international law are clearly opposed to this rights-violating move.”

Thai foreign ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said on Tuesday that the official extradition request was received from Bahrain and forwarded to Thai prosecutors.

Thailand's attorney general's office received the extradition request on Monday and is expected to decide within a week whether to proceed with the extradition case, said Chatchom Akapin, director general of the international affairs department.

Mr Chatchom said Thailand would not extradite Araibi “if the sought extradition is political.”

“If it is, then the request must be denied,” he said.

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