Tue, Feb 05, 2019 - Page 3 News List

Soccer player rejects extradition

AUSTRALIAN REFUGEE:Hakeem al-Araibi pleaded with a Thai court not to send him back to Bahrain, where he said he was targeted for arrest because he is a Shiite

AP, BANGKOK

A soccer player who has refugee status in Australia yesterday told a Thai court that he refuses to be voluntarily extradited to Bahrain, which has asked for his return to serve a prison sentence for a crime he denies committing.

Hakeem al-Araibi’s rejection of extradition means a trial will be held to determine whether Thai authorities will send him to Bahrain, where he fears he is at risk of torture, or release him so he can return to Australia.

“Please speak to Thailand; don’t send me to Bahrain. Bahrain won’t defend me,” a chained Hakeem al-Araibi shouted to reporters outside the court as he was escorted by prison guards into the hearing.

His supporters say he should be freed, as he is protected under his status as a refugee with Australian residency.

A court filing made last week by Thai prosecutors said that while Thailand and Bahrain do not have an extradition treaty, extradition is still possible by law if Bahrain makes an official request, which it did, and if the crime is punishable by more than a year, is not politically motivated or a military violation.

The Bahraini government says he should be treated as a simple fugitive who was convicted for an arson attack that damaged a police station, an act he denies.

It says Al-Araibi has opportunities to appeal his conviction in the country’s courts.

The Bangkok court set an April 22 date for a next hearing.

Al-Araibi, 25, a former Bahraini national team player, says he fled his home country due to political repression.

Bahrain wants him returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence he received in absentia in 2014 for an arson attack that damaged a police station.

Al-Araibi was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on a holiday, and subsequently was held pending the completion of the extradition request by Bahrain.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison sent a letter last month urging Thailand to stop the extradition, and soccer governing bodies and human rights activists have urged the country to let him return to Australia where he lives and plays for a semi-professional team in Melbourne.

“Your wife sends her love, Hakeem. All of Australia is with you. Be strong. Football is with you,” former Australia national soccer team captain Craig Foster said to al-Araibi outside court.

Foster has been in Bangkok to push for al-Araibi’s release.

“I think the facts of this case are a very simple one. Hakeem is a refugee. He is a human rights defender and therefore under international law he should not be subject to these proceedings,” Francis Awaritefe, vice president of FIFPro, an international soccer players’ body, told the court.

Al-Araibi has said he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten when he was held in Bahrain.

He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain.

Bahrain has a Shiite majority, but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.

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