Australia PM ramps up pressure on Thailand to free refugee footballer

Posted February 09, 2019

"Given Mr al-Araibi's status as a refugee, given his protection visa position in Australia, given he's a permanent resident of our country on the path to citizenship, we have encouraged the Bahraini Government not to proceed with the extradition application, and I certainly encourage the Thai Government to exercise the discretion it has available to it under its extradition act".

FFA on Wednesday cancelled a trip to Bangkok which was scheduled as part of a proposed pre-AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers camp.

Al-Araibi, a former member of Bahrain's national football team who plays semi-professionally in Australia, told a Thai court on Monday that he feared he would be tortured if he is returned to Bahrain.

The footballer says he faces torture in Bahrain and wants to return to Australia, where he has lived since 2014 and plays for a Melbourne football club.

Al-Araibi, who had been playing in Australia after being granted asylum there, was arrested in Thailand when he arrived with his wife on honeymoon.

The International Olympic Committee recently echoed FIFA's call for Al-Araibi to be released.

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

"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.

The FFA has taken the decision to scrap a preparatory camp in Thailand's capital in protest at Al-Araibi's ongoing detainment.

Al-Araibi, 25, is in custody awaiting his April court hearing on whether he will be extradited to Bahrain where he was sentenced to 10 years' jail in absentia for vandalising a police station in 2012. "Indeed, we would not have become involved in the issue had we not received the Red Notice alert from the Australian Interpol and the subsequent formal request by Bahrain for his arrest and extradition", it said.

The sight of a chained al-Araibi inspired Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to second a second letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha following his first correspondence in January.

Former Australian football captain Craig Foster along with a group who has been campaigning for Araibi's release were present at the court to lend support to the embattled player.

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"If you look at the number of foreign defendants, they pay their bail and jump bail and then don't show up in court", Chatchom Akapin, the office's director general for worldwide affairs, said, adding that the policy applied "not only to Hakeem". He has claimed that he will be tortured and imprisoned should he be handed over to Bahrain by the Thai authorities.

But the pre-tournament camp is now in the process of being moved as global outcry at the treatment of Al-Araibi grows. "Don't be pushed around by Bahrain and just let him go home", he said.

"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.

The Thai attorney-general's office told reporters on Wednesday that with extradition requests, bail would be opposed.

"If you look at the number of foreign defendants, they pay their bail and jump bail and then don't show up in court", Chatchom Akapin, the office's director general for worldwide affairs, said, adding that the policy applied "not only to Hakeem".

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