Australia PM ramps up pressure on Thailand to free refugee footballer

Australia PM ramps up pressure on Thailand to free refugee footballer

Australia PM ramps up pressure on Thailand to free refugee footballer

The plight of Hakeem al-Araibi has caused a storm of protest, particularly in Australia, where he is a permanent resident and plays semi-professional football.

The Australia U-23s were scheduled to train in the country and also play China in a friendly match in Bangkok as part of their preparations for the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers which are to be held in Cambodia from March 22.

Hakeem al-Araibi's case has drawn global criticism as a Thai court considers an extradition request from Bahrain for him to serve a 10-year sentence related to the Arab spring uprising of 2011.

The 25-year-old Melbourne refugee, who fled criminal charges related to the 2011 Arab Spring protests against Bahrain's Government, is fighting the extradition, saying he faces torture if returned.

Al-Araibi has lived in Australia for about five years with refugee status and Australian residency after fleeing what he described as torture in his native nation.

The International Olympic Committee recently echoed FIFA's call for Al-Araibi to be released.

A chained al-Araibi yelled to reporters outside court as he was escorted by prison guards into Monday's hearing: "Please speak to Thailand, don't send me to Bahrain".

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.

Al-Araibi appeared shackled and handcuffed at a Criminal Court hearing in Bangkok on Monday (February 4).

Thailand said previously that it was acting on an Interpol Red Notice request from Bahrain.

He was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on honeymoon and subsequently was held pending the completion of the extradition request by Bahrain.

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

Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster has been leading the fight to have al-Araibi freed and says Bahrain and Thailand should be threatened with immediate expulsion from world sport over the issue.

"If you look at the number of foreign defendants, they pay their bail and jump bail and then don't show up in court", Chatchom Akapin, the office's director general for global affairs, said, adding that the policy applied "not only to Hakeem".

"I'm respectfully reminding the Thai prime minister that Australians feel very strongly about this, very, very strongly".

Senator Payne said she had also encouraged Bahrain's government not to to proceed with the extradition.

Marise Payne, Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, said she was "deeply concerned by his ongoing detention", promising to advocate at the "highest levels" for his release.

"If Mr Hakeem's case was a political case or that he was a political refugee, Thailand would have no right to extradite him back to Bahrain under any circumstances".

"After a thorough process, he was assessed by the Australian government to be a refugee".

Bahrain's embassy in Bangkok said al-Araibi was a fugitive who should be returned.

"[The] Office of Attorney General has reviewed the fact, [and] it is completely in line with Thai law".

He says he faces torture and possible death in Bahrain.

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