Bahrain footballer faces extradition from Thailand
Martin Lowe

Australia has scrapped a football match due to be played in Thailand in protest at the continued detention of the dissident footballer Hakeem al-Araibi.

Australia was due to play a friendly match against China, ahead of next month's qualifiers for the Asian under-23 championships.

This comes in a call to ban Thailand and Bahrain from the international sport until the case of al-Araibi has been resolved.

The former Bahraini international is being held in prison in Bangkok while he fights extradition.

Hakeem al-Araibi is being held in Bangkok Remand Prison, Thailand. /Martin Lowe

Hakeem al-Araibi is being held in Bangkok Remand Prison, Thailand. /Martin Lowe

Hakeem al-Araibi, whose supporters were shocked to see him appear at a Bangkok court in prison uniform and with his legs chained, was arrested while on honeymoon in Thailand.

After criticizing the government in his native Bahrain, he fled the country in 2014 and was later granted refugee status in Australia. He joined the semi-professional Melbourne side, Pascoe Vale.

It appears Bahrain did not attempt to extradite al-Araibi during the four years he spent in Australia, despite imposing a 10-year prison sentence in his absence on a charge of firebombing a police station.

The footballer says the charge is politically motivated and insists he was playing in a televised match at the time. He claims he was previously tortured in Bahrain and fears for his safety if he is returned.

The footballer is being kept  in Bangkok Remand Prison, Thailand as he fights extradition. /Martin Lowe

The footballer is being kept  in Bangkok Remand Prison, Thailand as he fights extradition. /Martin Lowe

On arrival in Thailand in November 2018, the 25-year-old was taken into custody by Thai immigration officers on the basis of an Interpol "red notice" arrest warrant – a warrant that was later apparently declared invalid.

Two factors may have influenced Thailand's decision. One, the country is not a signatory to the United Nations' 1951 Refugees Convention and does not routinely recognize refugee status and two, there are strong economic links between Thailand and Bahrain.

However, Australia also says Thailand was put “in a very difficult position” once Bahrain made a formal extradition request.

Thailand says the case is different from that of the Saudi teen Rahaf al-Qunun, who was detained then allowed to leave Thailand and travel to Canada, despite requests from her family that she be returned. 

Saudi teen Rahaf al-Qunun / social media photo

Saudi teen Rahaf al-Qunun / social media photo

Thai authorities say al-Qunun faced no charges and no extradition request was made.

Former Australian soccer captain Craig Foster is leading the campaign for al-Araibi's release.

"Bahrain has put Thailand in an awful position here. This is a retributive case of trying to get someone who voiced opposition to their royal family, and they are using Thailand to do so," he said.

"We want Hakeem's immediate release. It is important to us, he is on a protected visa by Australia, and we continue to call on our strong relationship with Thailand and the people of Thailand to release him immediately. There is no reason for him to go through a court case.  We think the release is the only acceptable outcome."

The Thai government says the law courts will be left to make an impartial and independent decision based on international convention.

Trum Chaleejun, from the Thai Attorney-General's Office, says the Thai government will not intervene. /Martin Lowe

Trum Chaleejun, from the Thai Attorney-General's Office, says the Thai government will not intervene. /Martin Lowe

Trum Chaleejun, from the Thai Attorney-General's Office said: "The Thai government's position is that it will not intervene nor interfere nor try to influence the criminal justice system.”

Thailand says this is a dispute between Bahrain and Australia… and it has "no stake" in the issue.

But Foster added, "Clearly Bahrain's case is purely politically motivated. Hakeem spoke out in pro-democracy demonstrations and was one of 150 athletes incarcerated. Which is an absolute travesty and something that the world should be (shocked) at… but it seems to have just slipped into the embers of the past."

"We would like that whole 2011 - 2012 crackdown on athletes in Bahrain to be investigated again." 

"Thailand has gone on record as saying they will follow international legal norms and therefore it is not enough to say it is a matter for the judicial system – a refugee on a protection visa under international law of refoulement should simply be returned to Australia … and we continue to call on the Thai prime minister to do so."