By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Bahraini soccer player with Australian refugee status Hakeem Al-Araibi (C) walks while escorted by Thai prison officers following an extradition hearing at the Criminal Court in Bangkok yesterday. // EPA-EFE PHOTO
Hakeem al-Araibi, a refugee and Australian resident, fears torture and even death if he is returned to Bahrain.
Al-Araibi, who has been in custody since November following Bahrain’s extradition request, pleaded with reporters and football officials to help secure his freedom as he arrived in court.
“Please don’t send me to Bahrain,” he said, as former Australian football captain Craig Foster and other campaigners turned up to offer support. “Your wife sends her love! Hakeem, Australia is with you, mate,” Foster shouted.
Meanwhile, the court said al-Araibi would be given 60 days “to object [to] the extradition request” and would need to present his case in April when the judges reconvene.
The Australian government repeated its call yesterday for the footballer to be returned to Australia as soon as possible.
In a statement issued on behalf of the Australian ambassador to Thailand and delivered to media at the court, it said the Bahrain government knew very well that al-Araibi has been living in Australia since 2014.
“During these four years, the Bahraini government did not attempt to ask Australia about Hakeem [al-Araibi] at all or to request to send him back to Bahrain.”
However, as soon as he and his wife travelled to Thailand, Bahrain expedited its coordination with the Thai government to have al-Araibi arrested and commence extradition proceedings immediately.
“The actions of the Bahraini government have put Thailand in a very difficult position. In particular, during what is an important year for the people and country of Thailand,” the statement read.
Al-Araibi had played for Bahrain’s national youth team before he fled and was granted asylum in Australia, where he plays for the semi-professional club Pascoe Vale FC.
“We believe if Hakeem is not released there has to be some sanctions levied on Bahrain and Thailand,” Australian former football player Francis Awaritefe told reporters outside the court, adding that both countries “should at least be excluded from being able to host” international matches.
Al-Araibi was convicted in absentia on charges of vandalising a police station in Bahrain, but says he was out of the country playing in a televised match at the time of the alleged offence. The player has said he believes he is being targeted over his criticism of AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s ruling family.