A Thai court has denied bail to the Bahraini football player with refugee status in Australia who was detained by Thai authorities as he arrived in Bangkok for his honeymoon. He will await an extradition hearing in jail.
A soccer player with refugee status in Australia told a Bangkok court on Monday that he refuses to be voluntarily extradited to Bahrain, which has asked for his return, to serve a prison sentence for a crime he denies committing.
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 being tortured, or release him so he can return to Australia.
“Please speak to Thailand, don’t send me to Bahrain. Bahrain won’t defend me,” a chained al-Araibi shouted to reporters outside court as he was escorted by prison guards into Monday’s hearing.
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Al-Araibi’s supporters seek his release, saying he is protected under his status as a refugee with Australian residency.
A court filing last week by Thai prosecutors noted that while Thailand and Bahrain do not have an extradition treaty, extradition is still possible by law if Bahrain makes an official request, which they have done, and if the crime is punishable by over a year, is not politically motivated or a military violation.
Bahraini authorities insist that he be treated as a simple fugitive who was convicted for an arson attack that damaged a police station, an act that he denies. It says he has opportunities to appeal his conviction in the country’s courts.
The Bangkok court set an April 22 date for a next hearing.
Support for Al-Araibi
Al-Araibi, 25, is a former Bahraini national team player, and says he fled his home country due to political repression. Bahrain wants him sent back to serve a 10-year prison sentence he received in absentia in 2014 for an arson attack that damaged a police station. He denies the charge.
Al-Araibi was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on a holiday, and subsequently was held pending the completion of the extradition request by Bahrain.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison sent a letter last month urging Thailand to stop the extradition, and soccer governing bodies as well as human rights activists have urged the country to let him return to Australia where he lives and plays for a semi-professional team in Melbourne.
“Your wife sends her love, Hakeem. All of Australia is with you. Be strong. Football is with you,” former Australia national soccer team captain Craig Foster said to Hakeem outside court. Foster has been in Bangkok to push for al-Araibi’s release.
“I think the facts of this case are a very simple one. Hakeem is a refugee. He is a human rights defender and therefore under international law he should not be subject to these proceedings,” Francis Awaritefe, vice president of FIFPro, the global union for professional football players, said at the court.
Hakeem has said when he was held in Bahrain previously, before seeking asylum in Australia, he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten. He said he believes he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain.
Bahrain has a Shiite majority population but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.