‘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".

Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 before being granted permanent residence in Australia, where he played for Pascoe Vale, a second-tier soccer club in Melbourne, was arrested while on honeymoon in Bangkok in November on an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain's request.

An arraignment date was set for April 22, when a witness list and trial date will be confirmed. The island kingdom, a staunch ally of Saudi Arabia, has intensified its clampdown on political dissent since the 2011 Arab Spring.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and sport officials such as Fatma Samoura, the secretary-general of soccer's world governing body, FIFA, and Praful Patel, vice president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), have also urged Araibi's release. It says he has an opportunity to appeal his conviction in the country's courts.

Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) also called on Fifa, the Asian Football Confederation and the International Olympic Committee to consider sporting sanctions against Thailand and Bahrain after Monday's court ruling.

'Australia is with you, buddy, ' Mr Foster reportedly shouted as Al-Araibi walked by.

Al-Araibi, 25, is a former Bahraini national team player, and says he fled his home country due to political repression.

"You can not have the privileges of the worldwide community if you are not prepared to live by its rules or behave by its standards", said John Didulica, Professional Footballers Australia chief executive.

A court filing made 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 it did - and if the crime is punishable by more than a year's imprisonment and is not politically motivated or a military violation.

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"I think the facts of this case are a very simple one".

"Hakeem is a refugee".

In addition to Foster, who has been leading a protest in the football community for Araibi´s freedom, Australian premier Scott Morrison has called on his Thai counterpart to release the 25-year-old, saying that returning him to Bahrain would infringe on his rights under worldwide human rights law.

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.

Hakeem al-Araibi is asking not to be extradited to his native Bahrain from Buddhist-majority Thailand, according to media reports.

Human rights groups have accused Bahrain of arresting family members of opposition supporters. "And therefore under global law, he should not be a subject of these proceedings", he said.

"What's happened today, particularly him being brought in in shackles, is going to really drive the football community to put massive pressure on them", Foster said. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shia faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain.

He was given 60 days to prepare a defence against Bahrain's attempt to have him returned from Thailand.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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