Refugee footballer pleads Thai authorities not to extradite him to Bahrain

A-League players campaigns for Hakeem

Thai prosecutors submitted a request in court Friday for Thailand to extradite to Bahrain a detained football player who has refugee status in Australia.

The footballer was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on a delayed honeymoon and, despite having been assured by Australian authorities that his status as a refugee would protect him, he was detained on arrival by Thai police acting on an Interpol red notice issued at Bahrain's request. He walked into the Criminal Court in the capital in bare feet with shackles around his ankles, escorted by Thai security officials.

The Bangkok court set an April 22 date for the next hearing.

Rights groups, soccer governing bodies and activists have pushed for Thailand to release al-Araibi so he can return to Australia.

A range of footballers have voiced their support for Al-Araibi on social media with Didier Drogba and Jamie Vardy just a few that have sent out messages. It says he has an opportunity to appeal his conviction in the country's courts.

Australian embassy staff were in the court room waiting for proceedings to begin, along with diplomatic staff from a long list of countries, worldwide football body FIFA, human rights groups and a large throng of media.

Supporters say that Araibi, as a recognized refugee, should be released and sent back to Australia instead.

Al Araibi's case has drawn worldwide attention and condemnation from his supporters who say he risks being tortured if returned to Bahrain.

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"I think the facts of this case are a very simple one".

The detention of a recognised refugee such as Hakeem sends the message to the world that Thailand is "not safe for refugees", said Human Rights Watch's Phil Robertson. They don't respect human rights. "And therefore under worldwide law, he should not be a subject of these proceedings", he said.

He denies any offending but was convicted in-absentia and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

Foster said he has called on Federation Internationale de Football Association to discuss the possibility of issuing sporting sanctions against Thailand that could bar worldwide matches from taking place within the country.

Hakeem has said when he was held in Bahrain previously, before seeking asylum in Australia, he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten.

"The Thai government should see that Bahrain's sole motive is to further punish Hakeem for the peaceful political opinions he expressed", Amnesty International Thailand campaigner Katherine Gerson said in a statement. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shia faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain. "Don't be pushed around by Bahrain and just let him go home", Foster said.

In addition to Foster, who has been leading a protest in the football community for Araibi´s freedom, Australian premier Scott Morrison has called on his Thai counterpart to release the 25-year-old, saying that returning him to Bahrain would infringe on his rights under global human rights law.

The soccer player says he fled persecution in the island Kingdom located halfway between Qatar and Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, which has a majority Shia population ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy.

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