Australia urges Thailand free refugee soccer player

Craig Foster campaigns for Hakeem

Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014, was detained and held in Thailand in November at the request of the Bahrain government.

The soccer player says he fled persecution in the island Kingdom located halfway between Qatar and Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, which has a majority Shia population ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy.

"Be strong. Football is with you", former Australia national soccer team captain Craig Foster said to Hakeem outside court.

"Hakeem, Australia is with you, mate", Foster shouted.

"It's obvious to the world that this is a politically motivated case, this is about retribution from Bahrain to Hakeem who spoke up against the government and others", he said. He has refugee status in Australia, where he lives and plays for a semi-professional team, and was travelling on vacation.

A Thai prosecutor submitted the Bahraini extradition request to the court last week, saying it showed Araibi had committed criminal wrongdoing and so should be extradited.

Al-Araibi himself has spoken of his fear of being deported to Bahrain, telling The Guardian, "in Bahrain there are no human rights and no safety for people like me", further asserting that the extradition notice was connected to comments he made about Bahrain's human rights record, saying "This is nothing to do with my conviction, Bahrain wants me back to punish me, because I talked to the media about bad human rights".

Bahrain also disputes Australia's finding that al-Araibi is a refugee, saying Australia had granted this status based on inaccurate information. "Hakeem and his wife have found sanctuary in Australia; he should not spend another day in detention and should be allowed home, to Melbourne, immediately".

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.

Araibi violated the terms of his bail the statement said and has "the right to appeal" his conviction.

"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.

Al Araibi, 25, is due to appear in court in Bangkok on Monday, reports Efe news.

Worldwide human rights groups say Bahrain has systematically persecuted and denied the civil rights of its Shiite majority.

"He is a refugee".

Chatchom said administrators of the Thai government have not intervened in the case but he had received a letter from Thailand's foreign ministry that stated only that the case could affect global relations.

Federico Addiechi, a representative of Federation Internationale de Football Association, soccer's world governing body, also attended Monday's hearing and said the organization will continue to support al-Araibi.

Human rights groups have accused Bahrain of arresting family members of opposition supporters. "Why won't Thailand just let me go home?" "It is a commitment enshrined in our human rights policy", he said.

Both Al-Araibi's representatives and the prosecution will need to have their cases prepared by April 5, before the court hear from witnesses 17 days later.

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