Feet shackled, Bahraini footballer arrives at Thai court to fight extradition

Feet shackled, Bahraini footballer arrives at Thai court to fight extradition

Kerry Wise
February 6, 2019

In what was originally a closed hearing, representatives from 13 countries and the European Union gathered inside the Thai courtroom on Monday, where Al-Araibi had denied Bahrain's extradition request.

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.

FIFA's head of sustainability and diversity, Federico Addiechi - who was present for the hearing - told reporters FIFA has had numerous exchanges on the "formal and informal level" with Bahrain, Thailand, Australia and the Asian Football Confederation.

Campaign group #NewFIFANow has called on Federation Internationale de Football Association to immediately sanction Thailand under its statutes, which state the organisation is "committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote protection of these rights".

Former Socceroo Craig Foster has led the fight to release Al-Araibi and stressed the injustice of his continued detention. 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.

"Certainly, we've been in touch with Hakeem's wife very regularly throughout and she's extremely depressed, as everyone would be aware", Foster said.

Al-Araibi, 25, is a former Bahraini national team player, and says he fled his home country due to political repression. He has refugee status in Australia, where he lives and plays for a semi-professional team, and was travelling on vacation.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014 for allegedly vandalising a police station during Arab Spring protests in Bahrain, charges he strongly denies.

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The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), a network of hundreds of civil society groups committed to advancing the rights of refugees in the Asia Pacific region, has also been highly active in supporting al-Araibi's case. He was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on a holiday at the request of Bahrain relayed through Interpol.

Global criticism of the Thai military government's handling of Al-Araibi's predicament is intensifying, with Amnesty International on Monday calling for the extradition case to be thrown out.

Araibi has said he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten while he was held in Bahrain previously. Bahrain has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.

The Bahraini government insists that he be treated as a simple fugitive.

Araibi violated the terms of his bail the statement said and has "the right to appeal" his conviction.

Al-Araibi says he is innocent and that he was tortured in Bahrain for his political opposition. "He is at grave risk of unjust imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment if he is returned to Bahrain".

A preliminary hearing of witnesses and evidence was set for 22 April, he said. "Allow him to return to Australia, to his friends and his family and the Australian community", McKinnon told reporters outside the courthouse. They don't respect human rights.

Bahrain has rejected calls by human rights bodies, including one by the United Nations to free prominent activist Nabeel Rajab, who is being held in jail for posting "false tweets which do not fall within freedom of expression".