Court extends detention of Bahraini refugee footballer to April 22

Court extends detention of Bahraini refugee footballer to April 22

Hakeem al-Araibi arrives at Bangkok Criminal Court on Monday. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)
Hakeem al-Araibi arrives at Bangkok Criminal Court on Monday. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)

Hakeem al-Araibi, a jailed Bahraini footballer who fled his country and has refugee status in Australia, appeared in Bangkok's Criminal Court on Monday to fight an extradition request from Bahrain.

The court gave the defence team until April 5 to submit documents opposing the extradition, and set April 22 for a preliminary hearing of witnesses and evidence, said defence lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman.

Reporters, activists, and officials and diplomats from at least 13 countries, including Australian ambassador-designate to Thailand Allan McKinnon, waited to greet Mr Araibi, who was led into the courthouse wearing a beige prison uniform.

"Don't send me to Bahrain," said the footballer, who says he faces persecution and torture if he is sent back.

Mr Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 before being granted permanent residence in Australia, where he played for Pascoe Vale, a second-tier soccer club in Melbourne, was arrested while on honeymoon in Bangkok in November on an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain's request.

Interpol later cancelled the notice.

Craig Foster, the former captain of Australia's football team who has been campaigning around the world for Mr Araibi's release, was also at the court to show support for the Bahraini refugee.

"Your wife sent her love, Australia is with you, buddy," Foster shouted to Mr Araibi who waved back to supporters. "Stay strong, Hakeem."

"Thailand has really been used by Bahrain in this situation," Foster said.

"The Thai prime minister should simply step up and say this is a politically motivated charge, that the international reputation of Thailand is being damaged, and that Hakeem Al Araibi should immediately be released."

 

Australian premier Scott Morrison has called on his Thai counterpart to release the 25-year-old, saying that returning him to Bahrain would infringe on his rights under international human rights law.

"We are asking the Prime Minister to allow Hakeem al-Araibi to return to Australia," Australian ambassador-designate Allan McKinnon reiterated Monday outside the court, adding that representatives of 15 other countries were present to observe the proceedings.

Thailand's judiciary will decide the matter, the deputy foreign minister said.

"Even though he has refugee status from Australia, there is an official extradition request from Bahrain, which has to go through our judicial process," Virasakdi Futrakul told Reuters.

"We do not use political decision in this matter," he added. "The government will not interfere with the judiciary."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and sport officials such as Fatma Samoura, the secretary-general of soccer's world governing body, FIFA, and Praful Patel, vice president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), have also urged Mr Araibi's release.

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

Both countries "should at least be excluded from being able to host" international matches, he added.

FIFA's head of sustainability and diversity, Federico Addiechi -- who was present for the hearing -- told reporters FIFA has had numerous exchanges on the "formal and informal level" with Bahrain, Thailand, Australia and the AFC.

"We want to show our support to him... to ensure the right thing happens and (Hakeem) goes back to Australia as soon as possible," Addiechi said.

Last week, a Thai prosecutor submitted the Bahraini extradition request to the court, saying it showed Mr Araibi had committed criminal wrongdoing and so should be extradited.

Mr Araibi 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.

Along with the objection papers, the footballer's lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman said they needed to submit evidence "to show the court that Hakeem's extradition to Bahrain will pose danger to his life."

"We are not worried about the law because we have evidence to show that he should not be sent to Bahrain."

Court proceedings on Mr Araibi's extradition "will take months," said Chatchom Akapin, an official of the  attorney general's office.

Global criticism of the military government’s handling of Mr al-Araibi’s predicament is intensifying, with Amnesty International on Monday calling for the extradition case to be thrown out.


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