Hakeem al-Araibi: Thai government 'shirking responsibility' by detaining footballer


Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014, holds refugee status in Australia, where he plays for semi-professional Melbourne-based club Pascoe Vale.

Football Federation Australia announced Wednesday it had scrapped the game against China, a scheduled warmup ahead of next month's qualifiers for the Asian under-23 championships.

Thailand's government insisted Wednesday it can not free a detained soccer player who has refugee status in Australia until hearings on Bahrain's request for his extradition are completed.

Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement yesterday blaming Australia for Hakeem Al-Alraibi's extradition, reiterating that Australian Interpol had originally alerted Thai authorities to Hakeem's red notice.

The 25-year-old al-Araibi, a former Bahrain national team player, has said he fled his home nation due to political repression and fears he is at risk of being tortured if he returns.

Thailand now claims to be caught between Bahrain, which is seeking the extradition of Araibi, and Australia, which is calling for him to be freed given his refugee status there.

Pressure is mounting on Thailand to release al-Araibi from all corners of the sporting world, with a number of high-profile European players like Giorgio Chiellini and Jamie Vardy lending their social media backing to a cause which is already being pushed by FFA, FIFA, the AFC, the IOC and FIFPro, the global players' union.

Australia continued to advocate on al-Araibi's behalf at the highest levels in both Thailand and Bahrain, Payne said.

Al-Araibi appeared shackled and handcuffed at a Criminal Court hearing in Bangkok on Monday (February 4).

"The Thai government should see that Bahrain's sole motive is to further punish Hakeem for the peaceful political opinions he expressed", Amnesty International Thailand campaigner Katherine Gerson said in a statement.

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Foster said on Twitter that al-Araibi was continuing to train from prison and was happy to hear big-name footballer's were supporting him.

Al-Araibi was sentenced to 10 years' jail in absentia over the firebombing of a police station in Bahrain in November 2012.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne urged Thai authorities to use their discretion.

Former Australia national soccer team captain Craig Foster, who has been lobbying for al-Araibi's release, is in Bangkok and has been in touch with al-Araibi.

But Thailand's Attorney-General's office says under the 2008 Extradition Act the Thai government does not have the power to intervene once a legal case is underway.

He is set to remain in prison for the next 60 days as lawyers prepare his case, which has attracted worldwide attention, against extradition to Bahrain.

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

"After a thorough process, he was assessed by the Australian government to be a refugee".

The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) which is also a signatory, separately said the Thai attorney-general should use his discretion to withdraw the case to "reduce pressure from the worldwide community and make our stand to protect refugees from persecution".

Laying out the main argument at Wednesday's news conference, it said that "Thailand does not gain anything from holding Mr. Hakeem in custody".