Monday, December 16, 2019

Australia ramps pressure to free Bahraini footballer

Feb 06. 2019
File photo/Kunlaphun Siripimamporn
File photo/Kunlaphun Siripimamporn
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By THE NATION, AGENCIES

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CANBERRA YESTERDAY continued to pressure Bangkok to immediately release a much-publicised Bahraini fugitive, with the prime minister writing his second letter to his Thai counterpart to say he was disturbed to see Hakeem al-Araibi in shackles at the Criminal Court.

“I’ve written to him again, because I was very disturbed at the appearance of Hakeem at the hearing the other day,” Scott Morrison said. “He was shackled and I thought that was very upsetting and I know it would have upset many Australians.

“I’m respectfully reminding the Thai prime minister that Australians feel very strongly about this, very, very strongly.”

In his first letter, Morrison called for Thailand to send al-Araibi back to Australia. Al-Araibi has lived in Australia for about five years with refugee status and Australian residency after fleeing what he described as torture in his native nation.

Morrison’s demand was made despite the fact that it was Australian Interpol that issued a “red notice” for al-Araibi a few days ahead of his departure for a honeymoon trip in Thailand. Bahrain, which wants the footballer to serve a jail term of 10 years on a criminal charge, learnt about his travel and requested that the Thai side arrest him.

It was reported that al-Araibi informed the Australian side about his trip and received a green light, so he left for Thailand only to be arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport on November 27 last year.

The 25-year-old fears being returned to Bahrain where he believes he could face imprisonment and torture.

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement yesterday saying the Kingdom would not have become involved in the issue had it not received the red-notice alert from the Australian Interpol and the subsequent formal request by Bahrain for his arrest and extradition. 

Thailand does not gain anything from having him in custody, but has legal obligations and commitments to the international community, read the statement. Thailand found itself in the middle of a conflict and it had no other legitimate option but to cooperate in line with the law. It suggested that the two countries talk to each other to sort out the problem and come up with their own solution, instead of trying to find an indirect solution from Thailand, which has only become involved in this case by chance.

Prosecutor opposing bail 

While his lawyer is seeking bail for al-Araibi, the public prosecutors yesterday said they would oppose bail, citing flight risk. 

Chatchom Akapin, director-general for international affairs at the Office of the Attorney-General, said several foreign defendants had jumped bail and did not show up in court. “This policy does not just apply to Hakeem,” he said. 

Separately, in what was called a sports sanction, Football Federation Australia (FFA) has cancelled a training trip of its Under-23s to Thailand, to protest against its continued detention of al-Araibi.

According to the Guardian, coach Graham Arnold said Australian national teams stood with al-Araibi, who faces another two months in a Thai jail before discovering his fate. 

FFA had planned since last year to play a friendly match against China in Bangkok as part of the team’s preparations for the AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers, which will be held in Cambodia in March, but alternatives are now being sought.

“On our return from the recent AFC Asian Cup we reassessed our plans due to the ongoing detainment of Australian footballer Hakeem al-Araibi in a Thai prison,” Arnold said.

“We are in the process of rearranging our pre-tournament camp in another Asian nation. Australia’s national teams are united in their support for Hakeem al-Araibi and we call on the community to continue to campaign for his release.”

Meanwhile, Australia Super Rugby club Melbourne Rebels on Tuesday faced stiff backlash on social media after announcing a sponsorship deal with Thai Airways. The club was accused of being “tone deaf” and “failing to read the room”.

It later apologised “unreservedly” for any offence caused and said the club stood in full support of al-Araibi’s cause and will use its new relationship to engage with the airline directly.

On Tuesday, FFA pledged 10,000 Australian dollars (Bt220,000) to kick-start fundraising efforts to help continue the global advocacy campaign to return al-Araibi to Australia.

Bahrain this week issued a statement defending its decision to pursue al-Araibi after he allegedly fled while awaiting trial.

It said al-Araibi had been granted bail to travel for a football tournament and had violated the terms while taking “special consideration granted to him as a sportsman”.

 

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