Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster says the plight of detained footballer Hakeem al-Araibi is now an emergency after Bahrain officially submitted documents for the refugee’s extradition from Thailand.
The 25-year-old Pascoe Vale player had just arrived in Thailand from Australia for his honeymoon in late November when he was detained based on an Interpol red notice issued at Bahrain’s request.
Bahrain issued extradition documents to Thailand overnight, 13 days ahead of the February 10 deadline.
Al-Araibi made an impassioned plea to the Australian government on Monday night from the Bangkok Remand Prison.
“Why am I here? Why has Bahrain followed me? It’s 2019, it’s not 100 years ago, we have human rights now. Please keep fighting for me, please do everything you can,” he said.
Al-Araibi was sentenced to 10 years’ jail in absentia by a Bahrain court over allegations he vandalised a police station during the Arab Spring in 2012.
The player denies the charges and claims he faces torture or death if he is returned to Bahrain by the Thai courts.
“I’m scared if I go back to Bahrain, I know what they will do to me,” he said.
Foster and international player’s advocate Brendan Schwab met FIFA officials in Zurich overnight to put their case that Asian Football Confederation president Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, who is from Bahrain, has failed in his fundamental responsibility to advocate for and protect the human rights of those in football and is, therefore, unfit for office.
Armed with a petition with more than 50,000 signatures, Foster spoke to FIFA general-secretary Fatma Samoura, later saying she agreed to exert further pressure on the governments of Bahrain and Thailand to ensure al-Araibi’s release.
Australia’s Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) is also advocating the suspension of Thailand and Bahrain from FIFA for failing to meet their human rights obligations if the detention continues.
“FIFA have agreed that the next step is to articulate that all the attention has been on Thailand and Bahrain have been left aside unfairly,” Foster said.
Human rights groups believe al-Araibi is at risk of torture in his homeland, which he fled in 2014 to move to Australia, where he was granted refugee status.
Any extradition to a country from which a refugee has fled contravenes the UNCHR 1951 Convention on Refugees, however, Thailand is not a signatory to the agreement.
“Bahrain, by what they have done today, have brazenly disregarded the views of 24 million Australians, FIFA. the IOC (International Olympic Commission), several NGOs and many influential people,” Foster said of the extradition notice.
“Thailand have acted on the back an illegal process and that cannot be allowed to happen,” he said.
FIFA’s rules on human rights protections means the organisation have the power to exert strong pressure on the Asian Football Confederation and the Football Associations of Bahrain and Thailand to help secure Al-Araibi’s freedom.
“Given the actions of Bahrain this morning, there really is no time to lose and we want it to be resolved this week, before Friday,” Foster said.
Bahraini Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa has criticised what he described as “external interference” in the nation’s affairs in a statement to Reuters.
“Those who speak now of al-Araibi having been mistreated and those who question the integrity of Bahrain’s courts ignore the fact that al-Araibi was released on bail of 100 dinars by the courts,” the statement read.
Bahraini authorities have said al-Araibi can return to appeal against the sentence, noting that others arrested with him who have done so have been acquitted.