Bahraini footballer's wife calls on Thailand to release him

In open letter to Thai PM, Hakeem al-Araibi's wife says he will face torture and possible death if deported to Bahrain.

    Al-Araibi was arrested in November when the footballer arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon [File: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]
    Al-Araibi was arrested in November when the footballer arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon [File: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

    The wife of a jailed Bahraini football player, who has refugee status in Australia, has pleaded with Thailand's prime minister to not allow his extradition to his native country, as international pressure against his detention and extradition grows. 

    In an open letter on Wednesday to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Hakeem al-Araibi's wife said her husband, who has been held for more than two months on an extradition request, faces torture in Bahrain and should be sent back to asylum in Australia.

    "He would go back to face imprisonment, torture and possible death. Please help my husband. I don't want to lose him," she wrote, asking for her name not to be published out of fear of her safety. 

    "I am terrified that the final decision to deport him will take place within the next few days," she said in the letter, which was obtained from al-Araibi's lawyer, Nadthasiri Bergman. 

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    Al-Araibi, 25, fled the country in 2014, saying he had been tortured in Bahrain after his arrest in 2012. Australia granted him political asylum in 2017 and he played for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale Football Club before his detention.

    He was arrested in November by Thai police, who said they were acting on an international arrest warrant - known as an Interpol "Red Notice" - issued by Bahrain, when the footballer arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon.

    court ruled in December he could be held for 60 days pending the completion of an extradition request by Bahrain.

    Bahrain wants its former national team player returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence that was handed down in absentia after he was accused of vandalising a police station - a charge he denies.

    Thailand officially received an extradition request from Bahrain, which was forwarded to Thai prosecutors, the foreign ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said on Tuesday. 

    Thailand's attorney general is expected to decide al-Araibi's case within a week, said Chatchom Akapin, director general for the Attorney General's International Affairs Department.

    Calls for release

    Al-Araibi's wife said in her letter the newly-wed couple travelled from Australia to Thailand "because we thought it would be the perfect country to have our honeymoon" but instead found themselves in a nightmare of arrest and detention.

    She asked Prayuth to show the same concern for those fleeing torture as Thailand did in the case of 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who fled what she said was family abuse to Thailand and was quickly resettled to Canada earlier this month.

    Prime Minister Prayuth told reporters on Tuesday al-Araibi's case was a matter for Thailand's courts.

    He acknowledged the concerns of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who wrote to Prayuth this week urging that al-Araibi not be extradited, but also said Thailand had good relations with Bahrain.

    "We are good friends with everyone. We have to figure out the solution. I know that everybody is concerned about this," Prayuth said.

    Al-Araibi's detention has caught the attention of human rights groups, football's governing bodies and activists, who have stepped up calls for his immediate release and safe return back to his adopted homeland. They believe he risks being tortured if he is sent back to Bahrain.

    Human Rights Watch's Asia director, Brad Adams, said Thailand would make a "huge mistake" if it extradites al-Araibi because "global opinion and international law are clearly opposed to this rights-violating move."

    On Tuesday, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) followed FIFA, world football's governing body, and the International Olympic Committee in asking for al-Araibi's release.

    The player claims he is being targeted by Bahrain over his criticism of AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of the ruling family.

    Bahrain's government said on Monday that extradition proceedings were under way "so that he can serve his sentence".

    Bahrain has a Shia majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy and has a reputation for harsh repression since its failed Arab Spring uprising in 2011.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies