Bahraini footballer to spend more months in Thai jail

Saturday, 09 Feb, 2019

The Football Federation of Australia (FFA) have cancelled their U-23 national team's training trip to Thailand as a support to refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi who has been detained in the country.

The Australian government has urged Thailand to exercise its legal discretion to free al-Araibi, who told a Bangkok court on Monday that he refuses to be voluntarily extradited to Bahrain. "Bahrain won't defend me".

Former Australia and Crystal Palace defender Craig Foster and the Australian and worldwide players' unions have been leading a campaign for the release of Al-Araibi.

"Hakeem's case is different from Rahaf Mohamed Alqunun from Saudi Arabia's case because Hakeem had an arrest warrant out for him, but she did not. Hakeem, Australia is with you, mate", Foster shouted. He says he only wants to return to Australia, where he has lived since 2014 and plays for a Melbourne football club.

Al-Araibi, a former player on Bahrain's national team, says he fled Bahrain due to political repression and that he fears torture if he returns. He has been living in Melbourne, where he plays for a semi-professional football team.

Hakeem al Araibi was convicted in absentia on charges of vandalising a police station in Bahrain.

Al-Araibi's case has gained worldwide support, including from Didier Drogba and Jamie Vardy, after he was arrested in Thailand.

He was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on honeymoon and subsequently was held pending the completion of the extradition request by Bahrain.

The former Bahraini worldwide will face court again in April as he looks to avoid extradition back to his homeland where he claims he'll face torture and possible death for speaking out against the royal family.

Chatchom Akapin, director-general for worldwide affairs at the Office of the Attorney-General, said several foreign defendants had jumped bail and did not show up in court.

The Bahraini government insists that he should be treated as a simple fugitive and will have an opportunity to appeal his conviction in the country's courts.

"Thailand hopes that Australia and Bahrain will have the goodwill to earnestly work together towards finding a win-win solution to this issue", it said. "He is at grave risk of unjust imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment if he is returned to Bahrain".

Bahrain fails to mention the court ignored evidence that only minutes before the time of the alleged crime, Al-Araibi was playing in a televised football match broadcast on national television.

"The [extradition] request of the requesting country [Bahrain] is from a criminal case whose offence is also considered a criminal offence in Thailand, and the penalties for the charges are more than one year in jail".

"We will continue to make these representations". He's a human rights defender.

Danthong Breen from the Union for Civil Liberty who helped organise the letter said it was unique as it involved local NGOs and was not driven by worldwide groups such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.

"In 2019, Thailand will launch Thai-mart which is the biggest economic centre in Bahrain and the import and exports between Bahrain and Thailand are expected to be worth around US$400m annually".

On Monday, a Thai court denied him bail during the course of his extradition hearing.