'Don't send me to Bahrain': Refugee footballer pleads in Bangkok

A soccer player who has refugee status in Australia told a Thai court Monday that he refuses to be voluntarily extradited to Bahrain, which has asked for his return to serve a prison sentence for a crime he denies committing.

FIFA's head of sustainability and diversity, Federico Addiechi - who was present for the hearing - told reporters FIFA has had numerous exchanges on the "formal and informal level" with Bahrain, Thailand, Australia and the Asian Football Confederation. "Bahrain won't defend me".

Campaigners have urged Thailand not to extradite Hakeem al-Araibi to his home country, where he faces a ten-year sentence for attacking a police station, a charge he denies.

"Hakeem's detention is a flagrant breach of his internationally accepted human rights as an Australian permanent resident and refugee".

"Australia is with you, buddy", Foster said as a heavily guarded Al-Araibi walked by.

Later, in a crowded courtroom filled with global diplomats in a show of support for the 25-year-old, al-Araibi denied all allegations against him and told the judge he feared being tortured if he was sent back to Bahrain. He says he was beaten in custody in Bahrain before obtaining asylum in Australia, where he continued to play semi-professionally.

The hearing was adjourned until April 22 to allow for their legal teams to prepare their cases.

He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain.

"Even though he has refugee status from Australia, there is an official extradition request from Bahrain, which has to go through our judicial process", Virasakdi Futrakul told Reuters.


"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.

Former Australian soccer captain Craig Foster, who has been campaigning around the world for Araibi's release, was also at the court to show support for the Bahraini refugee.

Bahrain has a Shiite majority population but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy. Bahrain has dubiously convicted thousands in response to the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, and given al-Araibi's credible alibi, his conviction seems no different.

Last week, a Thai prosecutor submitted the Bahraini extradition request to the court, saying it showed Araibi had committed criminal wrongdoing and so should be extradited. He's a human rights defender.

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 said Federation Internationale de Football Association has not discussed imposing sanctions on either Bahrain or Thailand over the case. "The case that is going to prove whether sport and human rights is substantive, and that the political and huge economic implications coming out of the Middle East region cannot play any role in what is a very basic case of a refugee law".

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.

She said she requested his release on bail but it was denied because the court deemed him a flight risk.


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