Australia PM 'upset' by footballer in shackles

Australia PM 'upset' by footballer in shackles

Photos of al-Araibi being taken to the Criminal Court in shackles on Monday went worldwide and drew negative comments, including from the Australian prime minister. (Reuters photo)
Photos of al-Araibi being taken to the Criminal Court in shackles on Monday went worldwide and drew negative comments, including from the Australian prime minister. (Reuters photo)

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday he was "disturbed" to see Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi in shackles in Thailand and had told Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha this is a serious issue for Australians.

Pressure is mounting on Bangkok to free Araibi, who was arrested in Thailand in November on behalf of the Bahraini government, with Canberra and soccer's world governing body Fifa demanding his return to Australia where he plays.

Morrison said he was "disturbed" to see Araibi with shackles on his feet when he arrived at the Criminal Court on Monday. The court extended his detention for two months.

"I thought that was very upsetting and I know it would have upset many Australians, and I respectfully reminded the Thai prime minister that Australians feel very strongly about this," Morrison told Sky News.

"So we will continue to make these representations and not just to Thailand, but also to Bahrain," he added.

Gen Prayut said the government could not intervene in the court proceedings.

"Do not jump to conclusion about the verdict and do not politicise this," Prayut told reporters.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said Australia and Bahrain should negotiate a solution.

"We don't have a stake in this and it's a matter that the two countries need to talk," Don told reporters.

"If they can't find a solution, then Thailand is ready to mediate. I am sure things will not escalate, but for now Hakeem will be under the care of Thai authorities."

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 soccer match at the time.

Araibi was tortured by Bahraini authorities because of his brother's political activities during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, New York-based Human Rights Watch has said.

Bahraini authorities deny allegations of torture.

Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy Asia director, said Araibi's return to Australia "is an open and shut case."

"Everybody seems to realise that except the Thai government," he told Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

Many Thais, including former deputy prime minister Chaturon Chaisang, have called for Araibi's release, making the hashtag #SaveHakeem a top-trending Thai item on Twitter on Monday.

Thai soccer team Chiang Rai United have also joined the campaign to free Araibi, who played for Melbourne's second tier Pascoe Vale soccer club.

Football Federation Australia have ramped up their campaign to free Araibi and pledged A$10,000 ($7,263; 227,000 baht) on Tuesday to kickstart a fundraising drive to help return him to Australia.

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