Published: Mon, February 04, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

'Don't send me to Bahrain': refugee footballer pleads in Bangkok

'Don't send me to Bahrain': refugee footballer pleads in Bangkok

Refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi arrived in shackles at Bangkok Criminal Court for his extradition hearing on Monday, shouting "Don't send me back to Bahrain".

He told the court he rejected the extradition request, saying he was detained and tortured for opposing the government, before he fled to Australia more than four years ago.

"Be strong. Football is with you", former Australia national soccer team captain Craig Foster said to Hakeem outside court. "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 football players' body, said in court. He told the court he refused to be extradited from Thailand back to Bahrain.

"We are asking Prime Minister Prayut to allow Hakeem al-Araibi to return to Australia, he is a refugee, allow him to return to Australia to his friends and his family", he told reporters.

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.

Al-Araibi says he is innocent and that he was tortured in Bahrain for his political opposition.

Al-Araibi was taken into custody on November 27 by Thai Immigration officers acting on an Interpol Red Notice requested by Bahrain, even though it is against the agency's policy of non-refoulement of refugees.

The Bangkok court extended his detention by 60 days, during which he can file an objection against the extradition request.

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Chatchom said administrators of the Thai government have not intervened in the case but he had received a letter from Thailand's foreign ministry that stated only that the case could affect worldwide relations.

He described Al-Araibi's detention as "opportunistic", and warned of the precedent any potential extradition may set.

"The Thai prime minister should simply step up and say this is a politically motivated charge, that the global reputation of Thailand is being damaged, and that Hakeem Al Araibi should immediately be released", Foster told Reuters.

'In reality, he has been duly convicted and sentenced by Bahrain's independent judiciary on charges involving serious violence and criminality, unrelated to any possible freedom of opinion/expression issues, ' the Kingdom said in a statement from its press office, the Guardian reported.

Chatchom Akapin, director general of the Thai office of the attorney general's global affairs department, which submitted the extradition request, has previously said a trial would be held if Al-Araibi refuses extradition.

Bahrain labelled his refugee status as "inaccurate information that has circulated to the effect that Mr al-Araibi can be properly be deemed a refugee, or that he is in some way at risk of persecution for his peaceful opinions or beliefs".

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.

"So Thailand have really been used by Bahrain in this situation".

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