SYDNEY – The Pascoe Vale football club of Melbourne called on Friday on the Thai government for the immediate release of a Bahraini team member, who has been detained in Bangkok and may be sent back to Bahrain despite having refugee status in Australia.
In a letter addressed to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, the team sought protection of Hakeem al-Araibi’s fundamental rights of security and freedom, and requested the Thai government not to extradite him to Bahrain from where he fled to escape persecution.
“Mr. Al-Araibi is a highly motivated, resilient and in all aspects a team player and well respected in the football world in Australia,” the letter said.
“We are also proud to call Hakeem al-Araibi our friend and teammate (...) On behalf of Pascoe Vale FC members and family, we urge you to do everything in your power to halt the refoulement of Al-Araibi to Bahrain and to allow him to return to Australia immediately,” it said.
Australian authorities granted him refugee status and a temporary visa in 2017 after he arrived in the country in 2014.
He had fled Bahrain where he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for damaging a police station.
Al-Araibi denied the allegations, saying he was outside the country for a tournament at the time of the attack.
He said the sentencing could be in retaliation to his participation in the Arab Spring revolts in Bahrain in 2012.
The footballer had arrived in Bangkok from Melbourne on Nov. 27 with his wife for a vacation when he was held at the Thai airport over an Interpol “Red Corner Notice.”
Although the notice was withdrawn on Dec. 4, al-Araibi continues to be detained at an immigration center in Bangkok.
Thai immigration chief, Surachate Hakparn, told EFE that if Bahrain filed an arrest warrant, he was likely to be extradited.
Organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, along with the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network have called for the immediate release of the footballer.
Thailand is not a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention and has been criticized for sending refugees and asylum-seekers back to countries where they face persecution and even torture.