'Please, don't send me to Bahrain' - Jailed Bahraini footballer

Hakeem Al Araibi Drogba
Chelsea legend Drogba throws his support behind #SaveHakeem

09 February, 2019

Al-Araibi, who has refugee protection status in Australia, was arrested in November when he arrived in Thailand on holiday, after Bahrain sent the country an extradition request.

FFA had planned since a year ago to play a friendly match against China in Bangkok as part of the team's preparations for the AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers, which will be held in Cambodia in March, but alternatives are now being sought.

"As soon as Hakeem and his wife travelled to Thailand for their honeymoon, the Government of Bahrain expedited its coordination with the Thai Government to have Hakeem arrested and commence extradition proceedings immediately", the statement reads.

With growing calls for Thailand and Bahrain to face sanctions over the latter's attempts to have Al-Araibi extradited from Thailand, plans for the Australian U23 team to play China in a friendly in Bangkok have been abandoned.

He subsequently applied for asylum in Australia, which granted him refugee status and residency in 2017.

The Australian government, world football governing body Fifa and the global players' union FIFPro have all advocated the release of the player.

Jailed Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi leaves Thailand's Criminal Court, in Bangkok, Thailand February 4, 2019.

"Thailand hopes that Australia and Bahrain will have the goodwill to earnestly work together towards finding a win-win solution to this issue", it said. "I have done nothing wrong in Bahrain but if I go back I will be tortured again and I will be sentenced to 12 years in jail".

Mr al-Araibi was convicted of vandalising a police station during 2011 anti-government protests in Bahrain and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia after he fled.

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The red notice was cancelled within days, but Thailand said because Bahrain had also made a formal extradition request he could not be released.

Former Australian football captain Craig Foster along with a group who has been campaigning for Araibi's release were present at the court to lend support to the embattled player.

It said he had been granted bail to travel for a football tournament and had violated the terms while taking "special consideration granted to him as a sportsman".

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Melbourne Wednesday he had now written two letters to his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-O-Cha and had stressed "just how strongly Australians feel about this". "In that way, we believe that those following this case in Thailand and around the world will praise both Australia and Bahrain for their efforts".

Laying out the main argument at Wednesday's news conference, it said that "Thailand does not gain anything from holding Mr. Hakeem in custody".

But Thailand's Attorney-General's office says under the 2008 Extradition Act the Thai government does not have the power to intervene once a legal case is underway.

And I'd simply say this, it is within the executive authority of the Thai government to actually enable him under their law to be returned to Australia.

The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) which is also a signatory, separately said the Thai attorney-general should use his discretion to withdraw the case to "reduce pressure from the worldwide community and make our stand to protect refugees from persecution".

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