FIFA joins fight to free Australian refugee footballer held in Thailand


Advocates say Hakeem Alaraibi faces 'great risk of torture' if he is deported from Thailand to Bahrain.

World football's governing body, FIFA, has joined efforts to free a Bahraini refugee footballer who is detained in Thailand and faces extradition back to the Gulf state.

Hakeem Alaraibi, who lives in Australia and is a permanent resident, was arrested on an Interpol red notice when he arrived in Bangkok last week after travelling from Melbourne.

Despite the red notice being lifted, Mr Alaraibi remains in detention. Advocates say he could be deported to Bahrain within days, where "he will likely be tortured" due to previously speaking out against authorities.

On Friday, FIFA said it wants the former Bahrain international to return to Australia "at the earliest possible moment".

Hakeem Alaraibi on the field.
Hakeem Alaraibi on the field.

FIFA said it expects his case "to be solved in accordance with well-established international standards," and has asked Australian football officials to urgently "take the matter up with their government".

It comes after Mr Alaraibi asked FIFA president Gianni Infantino to help "save his life" via advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

Mr Alaraibi is well-known in Bahrain, having played for the national football side before playing for Victorian football clubs, including Pascoe Vale.

After the FIFA call, local clubs also expressed their support for Mr Alaraibi.

Meanwhile, supporters protested at the Thai consulates in Melbourne and Sydney on Friday.

'Don't forget me'

On Friday, Mr Alaraibi told SBS News from Bangkok he was "afraid".

"I don't know what will happen. I just want to go back to Australia," he said.

His message to the Australian government was, "don't leave me. I am Australian".

Fatima Yazbek of the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (GIDHR) told SBS News extradition proceedings could begin as early as Friday.

In a text to journalists and supporters on Thursday, Mr Alaraibi said, "this might be my last message".

"If I am deported to Bahrain, don't forget me, and if once I'm there you hear me saying things, don't believe me," he said.

"I know what will happen to me and I know I will be tortured to confess things that I have never done. Please continue your fight to save me."

Hakeem Alaraibi, second from left, plays professional football for the Pascoe Vale team in Melbourne.
Hakeem Alaraibi, second from left, plays professional football for the Pascoe Vale team in Melbourne.
SBS News

SBS News has contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about Mr Alaraibi's case and if consular support is being offered.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne discussed Mr Alaraibi with reporters last week.

"He's not an Australian citizen ... and he's also travelling on UN papers. So we have raised that matter. Our post in Thailand is aware of it and is following up on that."

Demonstrations to free Australian refugee footballer held in Thailand
Demonstrations to free Australian refugee footballer held in Thailand

Government criticism

Mr Alaraibi was granted asylum status by Australia in May 2014 after being sentenced in absentia by the Bahraini courts to 10 years jail for vandalising a police station. He denies the charge.

Mr Alaraibi claims he was arrested in November 2012 and tortured by the Bahraini authorities, allegedly due to the political activities of his brother.

He has also been a vocal critic of Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Federation and a cousin of the Bahraini king.

Mr Alaraibi had been granted refugee travel documents by Australia for his trip to Thailand for a holiday with his wife.

Additional reporting: AAP

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