Asylum seekers in Asia

‘I know I will be tortured’: Australian Bahraini dissident pleads to UN, Fifa as he faces extradition hearing in Thailand

  • Hakeem Al-Araibi fled the Middle Eastern nation in 2014 after he was arrested and tortured
  • He is now permanent resident of Australia after being granted refugee status in 2017, but was seized in Bangkok last month during a family holiday
PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 December, 2018, 10:04am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 December, 2018, 6:27pm

A Thai court is considering a request by Bahrain to extradite an ex-national team footballer, the kingdom’s immigration chief said on Friday, as Fifa threw its support behind a return to Australia where he has refugee status.

Hakeem Al-Araibi was stopped by Thai immigration on November 27 after arriving in Bangkok from Australia for a holiday with his wife. He has since been held in detention.

The 25-year-old, who now plays for semi-professional club Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne, says he was arrested and beaten at the start of the Arab spring protests in the Gulf state in 2012 and was granted refugee status in Australia five years later.

Bahraini refugee soccer player arrested in Thailand while trying to fly back to Australia

He was convicted in absentia on charges of vandalising a police station in Bahrain.

But Al-Araibi says he was out of the country playing in a match at the time of the alleged offence.

Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters the attorney general’s office submitted an extradition case to the criminal court on Bahrain’s behalf as the Gulf state has an outstanding arrest warrant for him.

The court “will take time” to consider the case which was sparked when Al-Araibi was stopped in Bangkok on “Bahrain’s request”.

“We have cordial, good relations with Bahrain,” he said, adding authorities were “trying to speed up the case” due to the 12-day deadline of the remand period, which began on December 3.

The immigration chief said the footballer can appeal a negative verdict.

Al-Araibi said on Friday that he was still in the dark over the legal moves against him.

“I feel very nervous now,” he said. “You can see the news about Bahrain – there are no human rights there.”

If I am deported to Bahrain, do not forget me, and if once I’m there you hear me saying things, do not believe me
Hakeem Al-Araibi

In a message he wrote to journalists and supporters on Thursday night, Al-Araibi said: “I appeal to the United Nations, individual states, Fifa, footballers, and all people, as my fate is now in danger and my future will soon be over. If I am deported to Bahrain, do not forget me, and if once I’m there you hear me saying things, do not believe me. I know what will happen to me and I know that I will be tortured to confess things that I have never done. Please continue your fight to save me.”

A lawyer acting for Al-Araibi slammed the “political case”, urging his release.

“He didn’t do anything wrong in Thailand … so there is no grounds (for detention),” said Nadthasiri Bergman.

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Al-Araibi’s Melbourne football club, Pascoe Vale FC, is among numerous organisations which have been lobbying and crowdfunding in support of him.

Human rights groups have also lobbied the international governing body for football, Fifa, to defend Al-Araibi. Fifa’s vice-president is Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, a member of the royal Bahraini family and the subject of public criticism by Al-Araibi in 2016 for not supporting him and other Bahraini players who were targeted as dissidents.

Fifa on Thursday called for Al-Araibi’s release and for the “Thai authorities to allow (Al-Araibi) to return to Australia … at the earliest possible moment”.

Extraditing Al-Araibi to Bahrain will “breach international law and cross a red line”, said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.

Al-Araibi’s only crime “has been to tell the truth about his government’s ruthless torture”, he said, adding “the world should not underestimate how far the Gulf States will go to repress dissent”.

Additional reporting by The Guardian