Refugee pleads for Thailand to not send him to Bahrain:The Asahi Shimbun

Bahraini refugee Hakeem Al-Araibi could be extradited by Thailand amid protests
Bahrain soccer player detained in Thailand to spend another two months in jail
Author

06 February, 2019

A refugee footballer fighting an extradition request appealed for his freedom today, pleading "please don't send me to Bahrain" as he arrived in shackles at a Bangkok court, which extended his detention by another two months.

Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 before being granted permanent residence in Australia, where he played for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale soccer club, was arrested on an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain's request. He walked into the Criminal Court in the capital in bare feet with shackles around his ankles, escorted by Thai security officials.

An initial court date of April 22 has been set for the case with no bail made available.

Al-Araibi has said he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten while he was held in Bahrain previously. The island kingdom, a staunch ally of Saudi Arabia, has intensified its clampdown on political dissent since the 2011 Arab Spring. The Thai courts should immediately release al-Araibi so he can return to Australia, given it is now widely recognized that the Interpol notice was approved on illegal grounds. It says he has opportunities to appeal his conviction in the country's courts.

Hakeem al Araibi's rejection of extradition means a trial will be held to determine whether Thai authorities will send him to Bahrain, where he fears he is at risk or torture, or release him so he can return to Australia. FIFPro, the global representative organisation for footballers, has been central in attempts to see Hakeem returned to Australia, while Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) has called on both Federation Internationale de Football Association and the AFC to exercise their power to help him.

Last week, a Thai prosecutor submitted the Bahraini extradition request to the court, saying it showed Araibi had committed criminal wrongdoing and so should be extradited.

Al-Araibi himself has spoken of his fear of being deported to Bahrain, telling The Guardian, "in Bahrain there are no human rights and no safety for people like me", further asserting that the extradition notice was connected to comments he made about Bahrain's human rights record, saying "This is nothing to do with my conviction, Bahrain wants me back to punish me, because I talked to the media about awful human rights".

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The detention of a recognised refugee such as Hakeem sends the message to the world that Thailand is "not safe for refugees", said Human Rights Watch's Phil Robertson.

Human rights groups have accused Bahrain of arresting family members of opposition supporters. "He is a human rights defender and therefore under worldwide law he should not be subject to these proceedings", Francis Awaritefe, vice president of FIFPro, an global soccer players' body, said at the court. Football is with you'.

Bahrain asked Thailand to extradite Al-Araibi as it wants him to serve a 10 years' prison sentence for vandalizing a police station in 2012.

Speaking to CNN from the prison last week, Al-Araibi said that he believes Bahrain has targeted him now because of a 2016 interview he gave to German channel, ARDTV, saying that Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President and Bahraini national, Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, was not fit for the presidency of FIFA.

He said Federation Internationale de Football Association has not discussed imposing sanctions on either Bahrain or Thailand over the case.

Foster has been spearheading an worldwide support network of high-profile footballers, including Gary Lineker, Robbie Fowler and Didier Drogba, who have called for Mr AlAraibi's return to Australia. Bahrain has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.

"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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