‘Don’t send me to Bahrain’: Refugee footballer pleads in Bangkok

A refugee footballer fighting an extradition request pleaded for his freedom Monday, saying “please don’t send me to Bahrain” as he arrived in shackles at a Bangkok court, which extended his detention by another two months.

Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahraini refugee and Australian resident, fears torture and even death if he is returned to his homeland.

Araibi, who has been held in Thai custody since November following Bahrain’s extradition request, arrived in court in chains and pleaded with reporters and football officials to help secure his freedom.

“Please don’t send me to Bahrain,” he said, as former Australian football captain Craig Foster and other campaigners turned up to offer support to the embattled player.

“Your wife sends her love! Hakeem, Australia is with you, mate,” Foster shouted.

Araibi was stopped at a Bangkok airport in November when he arrived in Thailand for a holiday and has been held in detention since then as Thai courts decide whether to send him back to the Gulf State.

The court said Araibi would be given 60 days “to object (to) the extradition request” and would need to present his case in April when the judges reconvene.

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 international human rights law.

Araibi had played for Bahrain’s national youth team before he fled his homeland and was granted asylum in Australia, where he plays for the semi-professional club Pascoe Vale FC.

“We believe if Hakeem is not released there has to be some sanctions levied on Bahrain and Thailand,” Australian former football player Francis Awaritefe told reporters outside the court, adding that both countries “should at least be excluded from being able to host” international matches.

Representatives from the Australian embassy, as well as FIFA’s Federico Addiechi, also attended the hearing.

Araibi was convicted in absentia on charges of vandalising a police station in Bahrain, but says he was out of the country playing in a match at the time of the alleged offence.

The player has said he believes he is being targeted over his criticism of AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s ruling family.

A Bahrain official said last month Araibi “has all the rights and opportunities to defend himself” in the criminal case against him, and that he may also appeal the guilty verdict.

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