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Human rights

AFC must be held to account if Bahraini refugee player is extradited from Thailand, says ex-Socceroos captain Craig Foster

  • Asia’s governing body says talks with Fifa and Thai officials to release the player are ongoing
  • Al-Araibi fled Bahrain in 2014 and fears torture and persecution should he be returned
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 December, 2018, 6:52pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 December, 2018, 10:56pm

Ex-footballer turned human rights activist, Craig Foster, said Asia’s governing body would be held to account if Australia-based Bahraini player Hakeem al-Araibi was extradited from Thailand to his home country, where he fears persecution and torture.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), though, suggested that talks to release the player was preventing the body from providing more details.

Foster, a former Socceroos captain, said the AFC initial statement on Monday regarding Al-Araibi’s detention in a Thai jail pending extradition to Bahrain raised more questions than it answered.

In its statement, the AFC said: “We are working with Fifa and FAT [Football Association of Thailand] on this issue.”

Said Foster: “The response was brief and I think leaves the football community with some great concern and a vast number of questions about what is, and what is not, being done.

“So, the obligation on AFC is to not only work with the football community but also to strive to promote Hakeem’s rights more broadly. And what is becoming a more deeper concern is the role of the AFC president [Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa].

AFC ‘working with Fifa’ on case of Bahraini refugee footballer held in Thailand as ex-Hong Kong player demands his release

“Even Fifa has made a statement [calling for Al-Araibi’s release], albeit constrained, but it is simply extraordinary that the AFC have not been more vocal given that it concerns one of their registered players.

“Should Hakeem be ultimately extradited, football needs to know precisely what AFC have done and the precise steps they have taken to ensure his human rights have been upheld.”

Al-Araibi was arrested upon arriving in Thailand for a holiday in November, with local authorities acting on a red notice from Interpol seeking his extradition to Bahrain – where he was convicted in absentia of vandalism. He denies the charge.

In 2016, he publicly criticised Sheikh Salman, who is part of the Bahrain royal family, for his supposed role in cracking down on Bahraini athletes during the Arab spring. Al-Araibi had fled Bahrain in 2014 and sought asylum in Australia, where he now lives and plays football.

When asked to comment on Foster’s concerns, the AFC responded: “That is our statement as our work on this matter is ongoing with Fifa and FA of Thailand.”

Foster said he hoped that the AFC was, indeed, making progress behind the scenes.

“We can only hope that the AFC are doing everything in their power to advocate for Hakeem,” said Foster. “Given the lateness of any communique response, amid a broad range of calls from the likes of [players’ union] FIFPro and many human rights organisations, it does give us concern that may not be the case.

“What is vital is that every football stakeholder in all 47 countries within the AFC should be calling for full account as to what has precisely occurred here.”

Foster said Fifa had an independent human rights advisory board, set up in 2017, that was able to advocate for rights of its stakeholders. He is hoping the Fifa unit will hold AFC to account should the Asian body fail in its obligations towards Al-Araibi.

Meanwhile, Yahya Alhadid, an activist with the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, slammed Sheikh Salman’s announcement that he intended to run for another term as AFC president while Al-Araibi languishes in a Thai jail.

He tweeted: “Sheikh Salman AlKhalifa intends to re-run for @theafcdotcom presidency election, while he remains silent reg Hakeem’s case. He is willing to remain in his position although he did not fulfil his obligations or protected his players!”