Craig Foster blasts 'pitiful' AFC over Hakeem Al-Araibi response


Craig Foster thinks the AFC should be doing far more to help Hakeem Al-Araibi.

Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster has blasted the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) over its "grossly inadequate" response to the detention of Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi and questioned its continued silence on the matter.

The Australian permanent resident is recognised as a refugee by the Australian government and has been held in immigration detention by Thai authorities since November.

On Sunday, Mr Foster wrote an open letter to AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa.

Mr Al-Khalifa is a member of the Bahraini royal family and also the vice-president of FIFA, who has already called for Mr Al-Araibi's release.

"The AFC is duty-bound under obligations imposed by Article 3 of the AFC and FIFA Statutes to not only uphold Hakeem's internationally-recognised human rights but to 'strive to promote the protection of these rights'," Mr Foster said.

He urged the AFC president to uphold his obligations to stakeholders "to the maximum extent possible" or step down to better allow for the duties to be fulfilled. 

Mr Foster asked Mr Al-Khalifa several questions in the letter.

These included, "as a vice president of FIFA, do you endorse FIFA's call for Hakeem to be allowed safe return to Australia?"

And "given that the human rights standards of the AFC and Bahraini government differ and are in conflict with each other, how are you following the higher standard?"

"The position of AFC president now carries a non-negotiable duty to do everything possible to uphold the human rights of all in football and the football community has a right to ensure this duty is being carried out to its fullest extent," he said.

Footballers and human rights groups have called for Al-Araibi's release.
Footballers and human rights groups have called for Al-Araibi's release.
SBS News

It came as the AFC issued short statements about Mr Al-Araibi this week.

"We are working with FIFA and FAT [Football Association of Thailand] on this issue," it said in a statement to the South China Morning Post, giving no further details.

The AFC provided a similar response to the Guardian, saying "this work is ongoing".

In his letter, Mr Foster called the statements "grossly inadequate".

Writing about the open letter in SBS's World Game, Mr Foster also questioned if football politics were getting in the way of human rights concerns.

He said there were "two extremely concerning questions unanswered" relating to a personal conflict of interest; and the politics surrounding the AFC and FIFA elections next year.

"Firstly, whether the personal conflict of the Bahraini President of the AFC, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, regarding a young man who has been publicly critical of the Sheikh's alleged role in a human rights atrocity is, in any way compromising his, or his organisation's advocacy for Hakeem," he wrote.

"And AFC and FIFA elections on April 9 and June 5 respectively - and for which the electoral periods for campaigning are currently open - are impeding the willingness of football's stakeholders to hold the AFC president accountable."

"In other words, are football's stakeholders making it clear to Salman that he needs to stand up for our player or are they more interested in his patronage or vote next year?"

Earlier this week, Sheikh Salman announced he would be running for re-election as AFC president next year in April.

Mr Salman has been in the position since 2013 when he took over from Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam, who was banned for life by FIFA in 2011 as he faced allegations of involvement in a cash-for-votes scandal.

"The greater good of the AFC and its members is a priority and we have seen the progress that we have made in the last five years. Football has shown the power to bring nations together and to do good," he said in a statement.

Behind bars

The Australian permanent resident was arrested in Bangkok on an Interpol Red Notice in November. It was his first overseas holiday with his wife since fleeing Bahrain in 2014 in fear for his safety.

Refugees are not supposed to be issued with Interpol Red Notices requested by the country from which they have fled.

Thailand would be in breach of international law if it proceeds with his extradition.

Hakeem Al-Araibi on the field.
Hakeem Al-Araibi on the field.

But his detention could be prolonged for months as he awaits a Thai court decision on whether or not to extradite him.

Mr Al-Araibi's visa allows him to remain in Australia indefinitely and to travel to and from the country, so long as he does not travel to Bahrain.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has called for his immediate release and safe return to Australia, raising his case with Thai counterpart Don Pramudwinai.

Hakeem Al-Aaraibi is detained in Bangkok.
Hakeem Al-Aaraibi is detained in Bangkok.

But it was revealed that Australia's National Interpol Bureau tipped off Thailand about Mr Al-Araibi's arrival in the country before he arrived.

In 2014, Mr Al-Araibi was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalising a police station in Bahrain.

A former member of the Bahrain national football team, he says he was overseas playing in a televised match when the alleged incident occurred.

The London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy has since posted video footage showing Mr Al-Araibi during the live televised match.    

Mr Al-Araibi has been openly critical of the Bahraini government, speaking about an incident where he was allegedly tortured by authorities in 2012.

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