The Australian Football Federation (FFA) has canceled a proposed training camp in Thailand for its Under-23 men’s national team in a show of support for Hakeem Al-Araibi, the refugee footballer who is fighting extradition to Bahrain.
The squad had been set to face China in Bangkok as part of the side’s preparation for the upcoming AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers in March.
But the pre-tournament camp is now in the process of being moved as international outcry at the treatment of Al-Araibi grows.
The FFA wrote in a statement on Wednesday: “Australia’s national teams are united in their support for Hakeem al-Araibi.”
Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014, holds refugee status in Australia, where he plays for semi-professional Melbourne-based club Pascoe Vale. He was arrested and detained while on his honeymoon in Thailand at the request of the Bahraini government.
At his most recent court appearance on February 4, it was announced that both sides would have until April 5 to prepare their respective cases before presenting evidence on April 22 as part of the extradition process.
However, according to a spokesperson for Thailand’s attorney general’s office, Al-Araibi could remain jailed in the country until August, with the case likely to take between two and three months before a verdict is reached.
Thailand does not view Al-Araibi’s case as a politically motivated matter.
“[The] Office of Attorney General has reviewed the fact, [and] it is completely in line with Thai law. And it is [neither] political offense nor military offense, and it has not fallen into any exception,” said spokesman Trumph Jalichandra. “So, we have forwarded the case to the court.”
Al-Araibi shouted: “Don’t send me to Bahrain” as he was taken through the court at his appearance on Monday. He has claimed that he will be tortured and imprisoned should he be handed over to Bahrain by the Thai authorities.
Red notice request
Activists campaigning for his release suggest that the footballer should never even have been detained; an international warrant was issued for Al-Araibi’s arrest as he flew to Bangkok although such red notice requests are not meant for refugees.
Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the country had only become involved in the case and arrested Al-Araibi after receiving the notice alert through the Australian Interpol service.
“Thailand had previously not been aware of Mr. Hakeem’s case and does not have any prejudice against him,” a statement from the ministry explained.
“Indeed, we would not have become involved in the issue had we not received the red notice alert from the Australian Interpol and the subsequent formal request by Bahrain for his arrest and extradition.
“It took several days after the arrival of Mr. Hakeem, before the Australian authorities informed us that the red notice had been canceled. By that time, legal proceedings in Thailand regarding Mr. Hakeem had already started and could not be reversed.”
‘Human rights defender’
Former Australian national team player Francis Awaritefe, who is a vice-president of the global footballers’ union FIFPro, told CNN outside the courtroom on Monday: “Hakeem is a refugee. He’s a human rights defender. And therefore, under international law, he should not be a subject of these proceedings.”
Craig Foster, a former captain of Australia’s Socceroos, added: “It’s obvious to the world that this is a politically motivated case, this is about retribution from Bahrain to Hakeem who spoke up against the government and others.”
Football’s world governing body FIFA has also become involved in Al-Araibi’s case, with secretary general Fatma Samoura writing to Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to campaign for his release.
The letter says: “This situation should not have arisen, in particular, since Al-Arabi now lives, works and plays as a professional footballer in Australia, where he has been accorded refugee status.”
Al-Araibi has been openly critical of the Bahraini government and its record on human rights.
In 2012 he was arrested and detained for three months accused of vandalizing a police station during a protest. He told CNN last week that he was released because he presented evidence that he was playing soccer live on TV when the protest happened.
In 2014, he was sentenced to 10 years in absentia for the vandalism charge. He fled to Australia where he was granted refugee status in 2017.