November 30, 2018 / 6:53 AM / 13 days ago

Activists seek release of refugee Bahraini footballer held in Thailand

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai rights activists on Friday called for the release of a refugee footballer from Bahrain detained in Bangkok who may be deported back home where they say he could face persecution.

Thai authorities arrested Hakeem AlAraibi, who plays in Australia where he has refugee status, on arrival at a Bangkok airport this week based on an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain’s request.

AlAraibi was convicted of vandalising a police station in Bahrain and sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia. He has denied wrongdoing.

“We have to deport him to the country of origin or extradite him. According to the law, we have rights to detain him as long as we want, but within the necessary scope,” said an immigration official who declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Thailand does not have an extradition treaty with Bahrain but “it could be considered on a case by case basis”, said Chitphol Kanchanakit at the Foreign Affairs Department.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement it was “in direct contact with Thai authorities regarding this issue” but declined to elaborate.

Officials at the Bahrain embassy in Bangkok were not immediately available for comment.

AlAraibi has been a vocal critic of the president of the Asian Football Federation, Sheikh Salman Alkhalifa, who is a cousin of the king.

He was tortured by Bahraini authorities because of his brother’s political activities during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, Human Rights Watch said.

“Sending him back to Bahrain would be a heartless act that violates Thailand’s obligations to protect refugees,” said Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Thailand.

AlAraibi, who used to play for the Bahrain national team, was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 and now plays for a Melbourne club.

Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Nick Macfie

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