Bahraini refugee Hakeem Al-Araibi could be extradited by Thailand amid protests

by Garry Watts February 6, 2019, 8:26
Bahraini refugee Hakeem Al-Araibi could be extradited by Thailand amid protests

An initial court date of April 22 has been set for the case with no bail made available.

Jailed Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi arrives at Thailand's Criminal Court to submit his evidence to fight his extradition, after a local prosecutor submitted Bahrain's extradition request for him, in Bangkok, Thailand February 4, 2019.

He was arrested at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport after Interpol falsely issued a "red notice" - an worldwide arrest warrant - which is not supposed to be given to refugees.

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

Al-Araibi is wanted by Bahrain for allegedly vandalising a police station during anti-government protests.

"Please don't send me back to Bahrain", al-Araibi reportedly shouted as he entered the courtroom.

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

Al Araibi was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on a holiday, and subsequently was held pending the completion of the extradition request by Bahrain.

The detention of a recognised refugee such as Hakeem sends the message to the world that Thailand is "not safe for refugees", said Human Rights Watch's Phil Robertson.

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At the court session in Bangkok, former Australian football captain Craig Foster showed up - along with other supporters - to show solidarity with the asylum-seeking footballer.

Human rights groups have accused Bahrain of arresting family members of opposition supporters.

Al Araibi's case has drawn global attention and condemnation from his supporters who say he risks being tortured if returned to Bahrain. "And therefore under worldwide law, he should not be a subject of these proceedings", he said.

"The Thai government should see that Bahrain's sole motive is to further punish Hakeem for the peaceful political opinions he expressed", Amnesty International Thailand campaigner Katherine Gerson said in a statement.

Bahrain says he vandalized a police station, a crime alleged to have occurred while AlAraibi was playing a televised football match. He fled to Australia where he was granted refugee status in 2017. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shia faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain.

Al-Araibi claims his imprisonment is Shaikh Salman taking revenge after he openly criticised the FIFA vice-president, who unsuccessfully ran for the top job at world football's governing body in 2015.

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

Australia has been vocal in calling for Al-Araibi's release, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison writing a letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, telling reporters last week that Australia is "pushing on every door" to ensure Thailand releases him, according to SBS news.

Bahrain has rejected calls by human rights bodies, including one by the United Nations to free prominent activist Nabeel Rajab, who is being held in jail for posting "false tweets which do not fall within freedom of expression".

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