Australia’s football community is becoming increasingly distressed about the fate of a young player, Hakeem al-Araibi, who is being detained in Thailand after arriving there for his honeymoon late last month.
The community is calling on the head of the Asian Football Confederation Sheikh Salman bin Khalifa to stand up for al-Araibi’s human rights – or resign.
The Pascoe Vale player fled Bahrain and came to Australia under refugee status. He has publicly said that if he is ever forced to return to Bahrain, he fears he will be killed.
Al-Araibi was held in Bangkok following the issuing of an errant Interpol red notice requested by Bahrain in contravention of Interpol’s operating procedures.
The red notice has been rescinded but al-Araibi remains in jail with the threat of deportation a live possibility.
AFC President Sheikh Salman is a member of the Bahraini royal family. Despite numerous entreaties from the global football community for him to speak out on behalf of al-Araibi, he has remained silent.
Former Socceroo and SBS football expert Craig Foster told The New Daily the Sheikh was failing in his responsibility to the game and its players.
“The inaction by the AFC and its president means the football community both here and overseas should be incensed by the lack of action and the lack of care being shown by our regional confederation. It’s simply not good enough,” Foster said.
Foster is adamant that Sheikh Salman’s status as a Bahraini royal does not excuse him from his responsibility to advocate on behalf of al-Araibi, and in defence of his human rights.
“His obligations are very clear. We would understand if he felt conflicted, but that’s his issue. It’s not football’s and it’s certainly not Hakeem’s,” Foster said.
“He has only one obligation as AFC president and that is to urge his own Bahrain government to withdraw their extradition order immediately. He needs to support publicly FIFA’s statement on Hakeem and he also needs to support Hakeem publicly.
“So far he’s done none of these things.
“We know that as a member of the royal family, he certainly would have a significant degree of influence that doesn’t change his obligation either way.
“If through his relationship with the Bahrain government and if because of his history with Hakeem – having been criticised by Hakeem for his alleged role in the Arab spring crackdown – if these things place him in a position of conflict he should step aside.”
— يحيى الحديد_البحرين (@YahyaAlhadid) December 22, 2018
Al-Araibi fled Bahrain in 2015 following the Arab spring uprising. The Bahraini government convicted him in absentia of vandalising a police station — a charge that he vehemently refutes.
He was granted refugee status and has Australian residency. The former Bahraini international footballer has continued his football career with Pascoe Vale FC in the National Premier League competition in Melbourne.
The CEO of the Professional Footballers Association in Australia, John Didulica, told The New Daily the legal process in which al-Araibi has been caught is opaque.
“It’s a very open-ended process which in and of itself is quite scary. It’s almost like something out of Dostoevsky,” Mr Didulica said.
“You have this young man trapped in this process-free imprisonment.”
Mr Didulica, a lawyer, is aghast at what he sees is the abuse of legal norms in al-Araibi’s case.
“In this situation, to detain somebody on the basis of an improper notice, notwithstanding the withdrawal of that notice, they’re still continuing to detain Hakeem,” he said.
‘It’s an outrageous situation and that’s compounded by the silence that everybody seems to be getting when seeking additional information.
“All that does is feed the paranoia about what Hakeem will come up against if and when he’s extradited.
‘We need action from the AFC and the action we need is clear. They have a clear obligation under their own constitution to preserve, protect and promote human rights and there’s no more acute situation that they’ll have to deal with than the one we have right now.
“We have a footballer whose human rights have been breached and he needs to be returned to Australia.”
Video footage of the match Al-Araibi was playing on the night of the alleged crime has emerged from Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. #SaveHakeem https://t.co/hULFEilypt https://t.co/hULFEilypt
— Pascoe Vale FC (@pvfc_official) December 15, 2018
The PFA, in conjunction with a number of human rights groups, released a statement on Saturday calling on foreign minister Marise Payne to intervene directly in the case by traveling to Bangkok to make representations on al-Araibi’s behalf.
A spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told The New Daily in a statement the minister is traveling to Bangkok in early January and will use the opportunity to discuss the case and raise her concerns with Thai officials.
They reiterated that Ms Payne had raised the matter with her counterpart, to request that al-Araibi be returned to Australia as soon as possible, and will continue to make high-level diplomatic representations seeking al-Araibi’s safe return.
While Foster is comfortable with the efforts of Football Federation Australia’s lobbying effort on behalf of al-Araibi, he feels it needs to go further.
“My question is, what is FFA doing in term of the AFC itself? What are we doing to articulate to President Salman that he must stand up for one of our registered players?” Foster said.
“FFA is our governing body and they need to make sure the AFC is going to take action right now.
“We shouldn’t be having this conversation.
“It should have been very simple from an AFC point of view. They should have made a statement and stood very strongly for Hakeem from day one.
“And it’s an absolute disgrace that they haven’t done so.”