A Bahraini football player who has been in Thai custody for more than two months despite having Australian refugee status appeared at a Bangkok courtroom Monday to reject a request from his home country that he be extradited over a criminal conviction there.
Supporters and Australian diplomats greeted Hakeem AlAraibi, 25, as he arrived at the court in a brown prison uniform and ankle chains. The court agreed to his attorneys’ request for time to file a formal objection to the extradition, setting an April date for a decision.
“The attorney general asked for (his) extradition to Bahrain, citing the Bahraini attorney general’s arrest warrant and a court’s sentence to 10 years in jail based on the incident on Nov. 3, 2012,” said a judge whose name was not released. “The Thai attorney general finds Bahrain and Thailand share a similar codes ... therefore it seeks the court’s decision to extradite him to Bahrain.”
AlAraibi told the court he was innocent of the Bahrain charges, which accused him of vandalizing a local police station.
“I reject the accusation. ... There was a rally at 18:00 hours (6 p.m.) that day, while I competing in a match that finished at 19:15 hours (7:15 p.m.),” AlAraibi told the court through a translator. “If I go back to Bahrain, I will be severely punished so I’m very scared.”
The footballer said Bahraini authorities tortured him while he was in custody in 2012. Two years later, he fled Bahrain and was sentenced in absentia to 10 years following his conviction.
Australia granted him asylum in 2017.
AlAraibi’s lawyer told the court that the defense team needed more time to prepare.
“The accused needs at least 60 days to prepare for document objecting the extradition request because it needs time for information gathering and paperwork involving different languages,” lawyer Natthasiri Bergman said, adding she would seek bail for her client.
The court allowed until April 5 for the AlAraibi to submit the formal objection and announced it would examine the objection on April 22.
AlAraibi, who plays for a Melbourne football club, was arrested at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on Nov. 27, 2018, as he and his wife arrived for a vacation in Thailand.
The Thai immigration bureau chief said officials had acted on an Interpol “Red Notice” to arrest AlAraibi at the request of Bahrain. The Interpol later withdrew the notice, according to media reports.
AlAraibi has remained in Thai custody as officials waited for Bahrain to process the extradition request, which arrived earlier this month amid international criticism. The Thai attorney general brought the request to the court’s attention last week.
World football confederation FIFA, Australian government officials and others have pleaded to Thai authorities to free AlAraibi and allow him to return to Australia. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha last week maintained the court would decide the footballer’s fate.
An Australian embassy spokesman who attended Monday’s court hearing called for AlAraibi’s release.
“I reiterate once again that the Government of Australia would like Hakeem AlAraibi to be returned to Australia as soon as possible. He is a refugee and permanent resident of Australia,” spokesman Mark Warnock said. “Hakeem is a loved football player for Pascoe Vale FC and has football fans across the country.
“We hope that Hakeem will be able to go back to be with his family and his wife in the coming days.”
On Sunday, Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai told reporters it was too soon to conclude that Thailand would send AlAraibi back to Bahrain.
“Thailand won’t benefit from holding Hakeem. We accidentally fell into this trouble. We just handle it as an independent state that has international obligations and righteousness to follow,” the minister told local media.
“In the meantime, I wish Australia and Bahrain, both good friends of Thailand, would discuss this to find a common resolution.”