Thai officials point finger in Hakeem al-Araibi plight

Geraldine Edwards
February 9, 2019

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.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ramped up pressure on Bangkok to release a refugee footballer held on a Bahrain extradition request, as sporting authorities cancelled two events in Thailand over his detention.

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 of torture, or release him so he can return to Australia.

"On our return from the recent AFC Asian Cup we reassessed our plans due to the ongoing detainment of Australian footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi in a Thai prison".

Later, al-Araibi fled to Australia where he was recognised as a refugee in 2017.

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.

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Australia's ambassador to Thailand, who appeared at the court Monday with AlAraibi, said in a statement that Bahrain had never requested AlAraibi's extradition in the four years he has lived in Australia.

In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald published Tuesday, al-Araibi urged Morrison to "please, please keep fighting for me, please keep working hard on my case".

Al-Araibi, 25, who is wanted by Bahrain over the firebombing of a police station in 2012, was detained at Bangkok airport on November 27 when he arrived from Melbourne for his honeymoon.

Bahrain wants him returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence he received in absentia in 2014.

"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".

The case has also drawn appeals from Australia's prime minister and soccer's world governing body, FIFA.

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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".

"I've written two letters now to the Thai prime minister and our consular officials and others have been using every opportunity they have to press the case to bring Hakeem home", he said at a Wednesday news conference in Melbourne.

It also said that under the Public Prosecutors Act, the case against Al-Araibi could be withdrawn as it was not in the public interest, nor related to public safety or security.

The latter hashtag consisted mostly of tweets that either defended the "fair" court system now mulling the refugee footballer's fate, or put the blame back on Australia.

"[The] Office of Attorney General has reviewed the fact, [and] it is completely in line with Thai law".

Bahraini authorities deny allegations of torture.

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"So between now and then, Hakeem will have to be in custody for at least until August", Trumph Jalichandra said.

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