Thailand says Australia ordered arrest of footballer Hakeem al-Araibi | News | DW | 06.02.2019
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Thailand says Australia ordered arrest of footballer Hakeem al-Araibi

Thailand has said Australia is to blame for the arrest of refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi in Bangkok. Australia has scrapped plans for a warm-up match in Thailand over al-Araibi's detention.

Thailand on Wednesday blamed Australia for the arrest of Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who was detained in November at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport during a holiday with his wife after Bahrain put out a warrant for his arrest. 

Thailand said it only became involved "by chance" after a police bureau that handles Interpol matters in Australia notified Thai authorities that al-Araibi had boarded a flight to Bangkok and was the subject of a "red notice" initiated by Bahrain.

"It took several days after the arrival of Mr. Hakeem before the Australian authorities informed us that the red notice had been canceled," the statement said. "By that time, legal proceedings in Thailand regarding Mr. Hakeem had already started and could not be reversed."

Read more: Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun's plight: A turning point for Saudi human rights?

Al-Araibi, who has refugee status in Australia and plays for the Under-23's football team, fled his home country in 2014 due to political repression and subsequently applied for asylum in Australia, which granted him refugee status and residency in 2017. He had been living in Melbourne, where he plays semi-professional football.

The 25-year-old was convicted in absentia on charges of vandalizing a police station in Bahrain, but says he was out of the country playing in a match at the time of the alleged offence.

Al-Araibi has said he believes he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain, a country that has a Shiite majority population but is ruled by a Sunni monarch. He fears he is at risk of being tortured if he returns.

The court hearing the case will need two to three months to give its ruling after the next hearing in late April, said a spokesman for the attorney general's office on Wednesday.

"So between now and then, Hakeem will have to be in custody for at least until August," Trumph Jalichandra said.

On Monday, a Thai court denied him bail during the course of his extradition hearing.

'Please keep fighting for me'

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has increased pressure on Thailand to release al-Araibi.

Morrison wrote a letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in January and on Wednesday said he had written him a second letter after being "very disturbed" by the sight of al-Araibi in chains during a court appearance on Monday.

"I've written to him again because I was very disturbed at the appearance of Hakeem at the hearing the other day and he was shackled," Morrison told Sky News Australia late Tuesday.

"And I thought that was very upsetting and I know it would have upset many Australians. I'm respectfully reminding the Thai prime minister that Australians feel very strongly about this. Very, very strongly."

In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald published Tuesday, al-Araibi urged Morrison to "please, please keep fighting for me, please keep working hard on my case".

International football stars including Didier Drogba, Jamie Vardy and Giorgio Chiellini, have thrown support behind al-Araibi.

Former Australia national soccer team captain Craig Foster, who has been lobbying for al-Araibi's release, is in Bangkok and has been in touch with al-Araibi.

Foster said on Twitter that al-Araibi was continuing to train from prison and was happy to hear big-name footballer's were supporting him.

"The smile when he heard about [Chiellini] and [Drogba], never seen anything like it — a footballer's passion never dies," Foster wrote.

Thailand visit scrapped

The situation has seen the Football Federation of Australia cancel an upcoming U23 men's team trip to Thailand, where they had been due to play a warmup match against China.

"On our return from the recent AFC Asian Cup, we reassessed our plans due to the ongoing detainment of Australian footballer Hakeem al-Araibi in a Thai prison," U23 team coach Graham Arnold said in a statement. 

Arnold said the match, to be held ahead of ahead of next month's qualifiers for the Asian Football Confederation championships, would be held in a different Asian country.

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law/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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