Bahraini footballer Araibi to spend weeks more in Thai prison

"Please don't send me to Bahrain!" he shouted on Monday morning, as he walked off the prison bus barefoot, his feet shackled.

Reporters, activists, and officials, including Australian ambassador-designate to Thailand Allan McKinnon, waited to greet Araibi, who was led into the courthouse wearing a beige prison uniform.

The soccer player says he fled persecution in the island Kingdom located halfway between Qatar and Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, which has a majority Shia population ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy.

In addition to Foster, who has been leading a protest in the football community for Araibi´s freedom, Australian premier Scott Morrison has called on his Thai counterpart to release the 25-year-old, saying that returning him to Bahrain would infringe on his rights under worldwide human rights law.

Supporters say that Araibi, as a recognized refugee, should be released and sent back to Australia instead.

"It's obvious to the world that this is a politically motivated case, this is about retribution from Bahrain to Hakeem who spoke up against the government and others", he said.

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.

A Thai prosecutor submitted the Bahraini extradition request to the court last week, saying it showed Araibi had committed criminal wrongdoing and so should be extradited.

Since the arrest of al-Araibi hit global headlines, Australia has been at the forefront of the demand for his immediate release, arguing that he was a refugee with Australian residency and therefore should not be arrested and face an extradition trial. "Hakeem and his wife have found sanctuary in Australia; he should not spend another day in detention and should be allowed home, to Melbourne, immediately".

A preliminary hearing of witnesses and evidence was set for 22 April, he said.

"We can not have a situation where an athlete is in a country like Thailand and then arbitrarily detained", Foster said from Bangkok on Monday. It says he has opportunities to appeal his conviction in the country's courts.

Sports bodies such as FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation have urged Thailand to release Al-Araibi but have been criticised for failing to do enough.

"He is a refugee".

The Thai deputy foreign minister said the matter is a case for the judicial system to decide.

Al-Araibi claims his imprisonment is Shaikh Salman taking revenge after he openly criticised the FIFA vice-president, who unsuccessfully ran for the top job at world football's governing body in 2015.

Human rights groups have accused Bahrain of arresting family members of opposition supporters.

Bahrain has rejected calls by human rights bodies, including one by the United Nations to free prominent activist Nabeel Rajab, who is being held in jail for posting "false tweets which do not fall within freedom of expression".

Bahrain, which issued an arrest warrant after finding him guilty of criminal charges in 2014, learnt about his overseas trip and requested Thailand to detain him, Don said.

She said she requested his release on bail but it was denied because the court deemed him a flight risk.

  • Jon Douglas