- Associated Press - Saturday, December 8, 2018

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - The Australian government has called for an Australian-based refugee soccer player to be immediately released from detention in Thailand.

Hakeem al-Araibi was detained in Bangkok in November on an Interpol warrant issued at the request of Bahrain.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Sunday she has raised the matter with her Thai counterpart, Don Pramudwinai, requesting that al-Araibi be allowed to fly back to Melbourne as soon as possible. He plays for a soccer team in the Victoria state league.

“Australia is concerned by the ongoing detention of Mr. Hakeem Ali al-Araibi and calls for his immediate return to Australia,” Payne said. (He) was granted permanent residency by the Australian government in 2017 in recognition of his status as a refugee.

“Returning Mr. al-Araibi to Bahrain, from where he fled, would contravene his rights under international human rights law.”

On Friday in Bangkok, al-Araibi was arrested ahead of a court ruling on whether he will be extradited to Bahrain, the homeland he fled four years ago.

Immigration Police chief Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said al-Araibi, who was detained upon entry at Bangkok airport on Nov. 27, is being held legally following a request from Bahrain’s government. He had traveled to Thailand on a holiday with his wife.

“The Australian consul got to visit him already,” Surachate said. “We have provided nice halal meals for him three times a day. We are enforcing the law to international standards.”

Al-Araibi has told the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, which is lobbying for his release, that he fears he will be tortured if sent back to Bahrain. The human rights organization Amnesty International says he is in serious danger of torture or other ill treatment.

Surachate said the issue will be dealt with by a Thai court. “For that, we need to wait for the court verdict. The law says he has the right to appeal the verdict. It’s up to the court’s consideration.” He added that al-Araibi would be brought before a court next Tuesday.

Al-Araibi’s detention has also drawn concern from FIFA.

He was sentenced in absentia in Bahrain in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station, a charge he denies. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain. Bahrain has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and has a reputation for harsh repression since its failed “Arab Spring” uprising in 2011.

Al-Araibi, 25, has said he was tortured in Bahrain after his 2012 arrest and fled in 2014 to Australia. He had played for Bahrain’s national soccer team and now plays for Melbourne’s Pascoe Vale Football Club. He has been publicly critical of the Bahrain royal family’s alleged involvement in sports scandals.

Al-Araibi told BBC Thai, in English via telephone from the Suanplu immigration detention center, that from last Friday he planned to go on a hunger strike because he would not get to meet his wife, who was released already, and that he wants to return to Australia.

“I want to go back to Australia because Australia has human rights while Bahrain doesn’t,” he said.

He said his future is “doomed” if he is sent to Bahrain.

“I don’t know what will happen to me. I know that I did be tortured and forced to confess in things I’ve never done.”


More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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