A Thai court has remanded a football player with Australian refugee status for 60 more days of custody as prosecutors examine evidence that could lead to him being extradited to his home country of Bahrain, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Hakeem AlAraibi, 25, may have to defend his case for one or two years, despite pressure from international rights groups calling for his release, his attorney, Sanya Kiatjongdee, told reporters.
“Earlier, he was remanded under the immigration law, but today he is so under the extradition law,” Sanya said.
AlAraibi was detained last month when he and his wife arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport at the start of a vacation trip to Thailand. He holds refugee status in Australia, where he plays football for a Melbourne club. But Thai authorities said his arrest was based on an Interpol “Red Notice” put out by Bahrain, which had sentenced him in absentia for vandalism.
“I don’t want to go back to Bahrain. I want to go back to Australia,” AlAraibi told reporters on Tuesday as immigration agents led the handcuffed Bahraini into the court, which extended his detention to 60 days and denied him bail.
“I didn’t do anything in Bahrain,” he said. “I’m a refugee in Australia. I’m going to have citizenship soon in Australia.”
Thai prosecutors were still waiting for Bahrain to send documents to Thailand’s foreign ministry for her client’s extradition, Sanya said, emphasizing that the attorney general would review the papers’ validity.
“If the case is valid, they will file the extradition request to the court,” Sanya said. “[AlAraibi] would need to fight for a year or two,” he said. “If [we end up] losing, we will appeal.”
Bahrain has no extradition treaty with Thailand, but a legal expert told BenarNews earlier that an extradition could be done on a reciprocal basis or through a special agreement, with Bangkok rendering a decision based on a court verdict.
On Monday, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne urged Thai authorities to release AlAraibi.
“Yes, we are very concerned by his ongoing detention in Thailand and have called and written to my colleague, Foreign Minister Don (Pramudwinai), seeking his immediate return to Australia,” Payne said, according to transcripts provided by her ministry’s website, during the launch of Australia’s annual public diplomacy campaign.
“Mr. AlAraibi was provided with permanent residency by the Australian government in 2017, in recognition of his status as a refugee and if he is returned to Bahrain that would be in contravention of his international human rights given his status,” she said.
AlAraibi remains openly critical of Bahrain’s government and the current Bahraini president of the Asian Football Confederation, Sheikh Salman Al-Khalifa, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
AlAraibi fled Bahrain two years after he was allegedly tortured by authorities while under detention in 2012. He was granted asylum last year in Australia, where he plays for a Melbourne football club, rights groups said.
In 2014, Bahrain sentenced AlAraibi to 10 years in prison after he was convicted of vandalizing a police station. But AlAraibi denied the charge and claimed he was playing a football match that was televised live when the alleged crime occurred.
International human rights organizations, including the world football confederation FIFA, have joined forces to demand AlAraibi’s release.
Phil Robertson, a deputy Asia director for HRW, described Bahrain’s criminal case against AlAraibi as “a totally bogus, politically manufactured fiction that is hardly worth the paper it’s written on.”
“So what game is Thailand playing by extending the remand on Hakeem for 60 days?” Robertson told BenarNews in an emailed statement. “Any serious analysis of facts and Thailand's international human rights commitments shows that there is no other choice but to send him to Australia.”