SBS soccer expert Craig Foster has visited refugee Hakeem AlAraibi in a Bangkok prison and launched an emotional appeal for his release.
Foster spent 20 minutes speaking with the Melbourne-based footballer through prison glass, emerging to speak to the media, at times choking back tears.
“Hakeem is losing hope,” Foster said.
“He’s feeling very vulnerable and he’s extremely worried about going back to Bahrain.”
Foreign Minister Marise Payne has stressed that Australia is making “extensive efforts” to seek the return Mr AlAraibi, a Melbourne-based soccer player who has been held in Thailand since November when he was arrested over an Interpol Red Notice warrant issued by his native Bahrain.
“As a refugee, I am absolutely focused on trying to achieve his release from detention in Thailand and his safe return to Australia and to his wife,” Senator Payne told ABC Radio’s AM on Wednesday.
Foster passed on a message from AlAraibi to his wife.
“Please tell the Australian government that if I must go back [to Bahrain] I’ll never see her again … to my wife, please tell the Australian government, don’t let me be sent back to Bahrain without seeing you.”
AlAraibi said he has been targeted because he criticised Bahraini royal Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim al-Kalhifa, the current president of the Asian Football Confederation, who is accused of overseeing a committee that identified athletes involved in the 2011 Arab Spring, who were later tortured.
The 25-year-old settled in Melbourne and was given a refugee protection visa.
He was detained by Thai police as he arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon, after an Interpol Red Notice from Bahrain and a tip-off from Australian Federal Police officers that he was en route.
Outside the Bangkok Remand Prison after meeting #SaveHakeem He called on @FIFAcom to act, is very concerned for his chances of positive resolution. I assured him that there is an entire movement fighting for him. And not to underestimate us!! To keep believing #SaveHakeem pic.twitter.com/BEPuCrRVjy
— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) January 22, 2019
Foster read a message from AlAraibi to FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
“Where are you? Where is FIFA? Where are my human rights?” asked AlAraibi.
The former Socceroo called on FIFA to uphold its new human rights policy, saying this case was a fundamental test for the sport.
“While FIFA are silent, they are complicit – as is Sheik Salman – they are complicit in Hakeem AlAraibi sitting in a cell here,” he said.
Thailand has given Bahrain 60 days to lodge a formal extradition request, a period that runs out on February 8, but can be extended by another 30 days.
While in Thailand Foster will meet diplomats, Thai officials and human rights workers to push AlAraibi’s case.
“The worst irony is that Hakeem has played football in the jail … he played for the champions of the prison,” Foster said.
“Why am I playing behind bars?” AlAraibi reportedly asked him.
“‘They took my career and they broke my heart, because I love my wife and I love football,’ and he said, ‘The two things I love the most, they’ve taken from me’.”
–ABC with AAP