News National Refugee footballer faces extradition to Bahrain after Thai holiday

Refugee footballer faces extradition to Bahrain after Thai holiday

Hakeem Al Araibi refugee Australia Tailand Bahrain
Human rights groups warn Araibi faces torture if returned to Bahrain. Photo: ABC
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A footballer granted refugee status in Australia is in danger of being extradited to Bahrain after being detained in Thailand.

Hakeem Al Araibi, 25, a former member of the Bahrain national team, is being held at Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre after being detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Saturday night.

Araibi was told on Friday by Thai officials to prepare to leave the country and booked a flight to Melbourne departing at 9.25pm on Saturday, according to NGOs and human rights activists who have spoken to him.

He was stopped from leaving the country hours before he was due to board his flight and detained on an Interpol red notice.

Araibi was granted asylum status by Australia in May 2014 after being sentenced in absentia by the Bahraini courts to 10 years jail for vandalising a police station.

He says he was arrested in November 2012 and tortured by the Bahraini authorities, allegedly due to the political activities of his brother.

Araibi has also been a vocal critic of Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Federation and a cousin of the Bahraini king.

A former member of the Bahrain national team, Araibi was arrested upon his arrival at Bangkok airport on November 27, based on an Interpol red notice issued at Bahrain’s request.

The commander of Thai Immigration Police Lieutenant General Surachet Hakpan said authorities had yet to receive an extradition request from Bahrain for Araibi.

“He will be held until the 4th (of December) and if there is no letter from Bahrain seeking extradition, then we will return him to Australia,” he said, adding that there is no formal extradition treaty between the two countries.

Bahraini embassy staff in Bangkok declined to comment, but earlier tweeted “the suspect is wanted for security cases which the embassy is aware of”, adding that it was following up with the “relevant security authorities”.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, warned if Araibi is extradited he is at “great risk of facing torture and unlawful imprisonment”.

He added it would be a breach of international law and “the UN and Australian authorities must fight to prevent a disastrous outcome”.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it would be a major test of Thailand’s commitment to respect human rights as Australia had already recognised Araibi’s refugee status.

“If they send him back it will be an incredible black mark (on Thailand), this guy is a refugee,” HRW’s Asian division executive director Brad Adams said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has refused to comment on details of the case but Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Friday officials had raised the case with Thai authorities.

Araibi had been granted refugee travel documents by Australia for his trip to Thailand for a holiday with his wife.

He plays professional football for the Pascoe Vale team in Melbourne.

-with AAP