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Thailand extends detention of Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi

Former national team player, who claimed asylum in Australia in 2014, says he would be imprisoned and tortured if he is extradited to Gulf state
Araibi is escorted by immigration police to a court in Bangkok on 11 December (AFP)

A court in Thailand has extended the detention of a former Bahrain national team footballer who claimed asylum in Australia.

Supporters of Hakeem al-Araibi, who says he was arrested and beaten in Bahrain in 2012 because of his brother’s alleged participation in pro-democracy protests, fear that he could be tortured if he is returned to the Gulf state.

Araibi was convicted in absentia on charges of vandalising a police station, but says he was out of the country playing in a match at the time of the alleged offence. 

Araibi, 25, now plays semi-professionally for a Melbourne club, Pascow Vale FC.

He was stopped and detained by Thai immigration in Bangkok on 27 November while passing through the city's airport on his way back to Australia from a holiday with his wife.

Araibi was handcuffed as he was led into the courtroom on Tuesday to hear that his detention had been extended by 60 days.

He told reporters outside: "Immigration Thailand and Immigration Bahrain work together to send me back to Bahrain. But Australia stopped them. Please stop them.

"I don't want to go back to Bahrain - I want to go back to Australia. I didn't do anything in Bahrain. I'm a refugee in Australia." 

'Good chance'

His lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman told the AFP news agency on Tuesday that he would seek bail for his client.

"I think he has a good chance not to be extradited because we have evidence" that he will face abuses back in Bahrain, Bergman said.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Sunday called for his "immediate return".

Bahrain has experienced periodic bouts of civil unrest and sporadic violence since 2011, when protests against the country's government were crushed by security forces with the help of forces from neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

In response, the country’s Sunni rulers launched a crackdown on opponents of their rule, many of whom come from Bahrain’s Shia majority community.

Human rights groups have frequently said cases against activists in Bahrain - men and women, religious and secular - fail to meet the basic standards of fair trials.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch categorise many of those jailed as prisoners of conscience.