Thailand receives Bahrain request for detained football player

Hakeem al-Araibi says he fled his home country because of political repression and claims he was beaten in custody.

    Bahraini football player Hakeem al-Araibi is brought to a court in Bangkok in December [Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP]
    Bahraini football player Hakeem al-Araibi is brought to a court in Bangkok in December [Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP]

    Thailand officially received a request from Bahrain to extradite a detained football player who has refugee status in Australia.

    Bahrain's request for the extradition of Hakeem al-Araibi was received Monday and forwarded to prosecutors for deliberation, foreign ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said on Tuesday.

    The Bahraini national team player says he fled his home country because of political repression. Bahrain wants him returned to serve a prison sentence for a charge he denies.

    Al-Araibi was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on a holiday, and a court ruled in December he could be held for 60 days pending the completion of an extradition request by Bahrain.

    Al-Araibi has alleged he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten while he was held in Bahrain in 2012. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shia faith and because his brother was politically active.

    Human rights groups believe al-Araibi risks being tortured if sent back to Bahrain.

    "The footballer Hakeem al-Araibi is a recognised refugee yet Thailand seems to be planning to forcibly return him to Bahrain, where he faces torture or worse," said Human Rights Watch's Minky Worden in a statement.

    "Thailand should permit his immediate return to his wife and teammates in Australia."

    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.

    Chatchom said Thailand would not extradite al-Araibi "if the sought extradition is political".

    "If it is, then the request must be denied."

    'An emergency'

    Human rights groups, football governing bodies, and activists have made an international push for Thailand to release al-Araibi, 25, who plays for the semi-professional football club Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne.

    Former Australia captain Craig Foster said Monday at FIFA headquarters that Bahrain's formal request made al-Araibi's plight an emergency.

    "We want it to be resolved this week, before Friday," Foster said after meeting with FIFA secretary Fatma Samoura.

    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.

    Al-Araibi also said he suspects he's being sought by Bahrain because of critical comments he made about Bahraini royal family member Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, who is also the president of the Asian Football Confederation.

    Al-Araibi has alleged that Sheikh Salman failed to stop the persecution and torture of Bahraini athletes who joined the country's 2011 protests.

    "Sheikh Salman's senior position within both FIFA and the Bahraini ruling family makes him well-positioned to stop the extradition," Worden said. "If he cares about his status in Asian football, he should be pressing Thailand to free Hakeem."

    Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark

    Shows

    Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies