Australia’s football officials have scrapped a scheduled match in Thailand to protest against the continued detention of Hakeem al-Araibi, a refugee player who is fighting extradition to Bahrain.
In a statement on Wednesday, Football Federation Australia said it had cancelled the game against China, a friendly match before next month’s qualifiers for the Asian under-23 championships.
Al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former Bahraini national team player, has said he fled his home country due to political repression and feared he was at risk of being tortured if he was sent back.
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, a charge he denies.
Al-Araibi’s supporters have said he should be freed and is protected under his status as a refugee with Australian residency. He was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on a holiday at the request of Bahrain, relayed through Interpol.
Australia coach Graham Arnold said his country’s “national teams are united in their support for Hakeem al-Araibi and we call on the community to continue to campaign for his release”.
‘Don’t send me back!’
On Monday, al-Araibi told a court in Thailand’s capital that he refused to be voluntarily extradited to Bahrain. His move means that a trial will be held to determine whether the Thai authorities will send him to Bahrain.
“Please speak to Thailand, don’t send me to Bahrain. Bahrain won’t defend me,” a chained al-Araibi yelled to reporters outside the court as he was escorted by prison guards into the hearing.
Craig Foster, a former captain for the Australia national men’s football team who has been lobbying for al-Araibi’s release, shouted words of encouragement to the jailed player.
“Your wife sends her love, Hakeem. All of Australia is with you. Be strong. Football is with you,” Foster said.
On Tuesday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne reiterated her government’s call for the Thai government to release al-Araibi so he could return home to Australia.
“Thailand’s office of the Attorney-General has publicly confirmed that Thailand’s Extradition Act allows for executive discretion in such cases. This was also confirmed by the prosecutor in the context of yesterday’s hearing,” Payne wrote in a statement.
She added: “Mr al-Araibi is a refugee and a permanent resident of Australia and the government remains deeply concerned by his ongoing detention in Thailand.”
Australia continues to advocate on al-Araibi’s behalf at the highest levels in both Thailand and Bahrain, Payne said.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies