Bahraini footballer Araibi to spend weeks more in Thai prison
A Bahraini footballer with refugee status in Australia will spend another two months in a Thai prison as Manama attempts to have him extradited.
Hakeem Al Araibi, who fell foul of Bahrain’s authorities during 2011’s Arab Spring protests and fled the country in 2014 after being detained and tortured, was arrested in Thailand in November when travelling to the country for his honeymoon.
On Monday, he appeared in a Bangkok court in shackles, greeted by Australian ambassador-designate to Thailand Allan McKinnon and envoys from at least 13 countries.
Al Araibi’s case has drawn international attention and condemnation from his supporters who say he risks being tortured if returned to Bahrain.
"Don't send me to Bahrain," he said outside the courthouse.
Thailand arrested the footballer in response to an Interpol red notice, which was issued erroneously as they cannot be given to people granted refugee status.
The court gave Al Araibi’s defence team until 5 April to submit documents rejecting the demand for extradition, according to his lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman.
A preliminary hearing of witnesses and evidence was set for 22 April, he said.
"We are not worried about the law because we have evidence to show that he should not be sent to Bahrain," Bergman told the Reuters news agency ahead of Monday's hearing.
Al Araibi’s supporters contend that his refugee status means he should be released and sent back to Australia, where he has been living and playing for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale FC.
The Thai prime minister should simply step up and say this is a politically motivated charge
- Craig Foster, former Australian football captain
"Thailand has really been used by Bahrain in this situation," former Australian football captain Craig Foster, who has been campaigning around the world for Araibi's release, told Reuters at the court.
"The Thai prime minister should simply step up and say this is a politically motivated charge, that the international reputation of Thailand is being damaged, and that Hakeem Al Araibi should immediately be released," he said.
The Thai deputy foreign minister said the matter is a case for the judicial system to decide.
"Even though he has refugee status from Australia, there is an official extradition request from Bahrain, which has to go through our judicial process," Virasakdi Futrakul told Reuters.
"We do not use political decision in this matter," he added. "The government will not interfere with the judiciary."
Al Araibi has gained support from 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.
They have all called for his release.
According to Human Rights Watch, Al Araibi was detained and tortured by the Bahraini authorities because of his brother’s political activities.
The footballer was convicted on charges of vandalising a police station and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in absentia.
Al Araibi denies all wrongdoing, and contends that he was playing football in a televised match when he was alleged to have vandalised the police station.