Australian PM "disturbed" by Thai detention of refugee footballer

Saul Bowman
February 9, 2019

Football Federation Australia (FFA) cancelled the under-23 men's national team plans to hold a training camp and a friendly game in Thailand ahead of the AFC U23 Championship qualifiers next month.

The Thai government said it is unable to release Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi from jail because an extradition request it received from Bahrain has "to run its judicial course".

Thailand defended on Wednesday its arrest of a Bahraini footballer with refugee status in Australia, saying officials only detained him because Australian authorities sent an Interpol "red notice" after he boarded a plane to Bangkok.

Thailand has laid the blame for the arrest of refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi squarely at the feet of Australia, saying he was detained at its request.

Australia has also been pressing the case with Bahrain's government, which is seeking to extradite al-Araibi, Mr Morrison said.

Pressure is mounting on Thailand to release al-Araibi from all corners of the sporting world, with a number of high-profile European players like Giorgio Chiellini and Jamie Vardy lending their social media backing to a cause which is already being pushed by FFA, FIFA, the AFC, the IOC and FIFPro, the global players' union.

"We reassessed our plans due to the ongoing detainment of Australian footballer Hakeem al-Araibi in a Thai prison", Arnold said in a statement.

Hakeem al-Araibi leaves the criminal court in Bangkok.

"Thailand hopes that Australia and Bahrain will have the goodwill to earnestly work together towards finding a win-win solution to this issue", the ministry's statement said.

Hakeem al Araibi was convicted in absentia on charges of vandalising a police station in Bahrain.

He was arrested by Thai authorities on November 27 at Bahrain's request. He says he only wants to return to Australia, where he has lived since 2014 and plays for a Melbourne football club.

"I've written to him again because I was very disturbed at the appearance of Hakeem at the hearing the other day and he was shackled", Morrison told Sky News Australia late yesterday.

"I would be very disappointed if as a result of how this was handled that that relationship between the Thai and Australian people were affected", he told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.

Senator Payne said she had also encouraged Bahrain's government not to to proceed with the extradition.

He is set to remain in prison for the next 60 days as lawyers prepare his case, which has attracted worldwide attention, against extradition to Bahrain.

On Tuesday, FFA pledged 10,000 Australian dollars (Bt220,000) to kick-start fundraising efforts to help continue the global advocacy campaign to return al-Araibi to Australia.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Thai attorney-general has confirmed that the Extradition Act allows for such discretion.

"So between now and then, Hakeem will have to be in custody for at least until August", Trumph Jalichandra said, Reuters reported.

And I'd simply say this, it is within the executive authority of the Thai government to actually enable him under their law to be returned to Australia. "He is at grave risk of unjust imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment if he is returned to Bahrain".

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