Refugee footballer on hunger strike as lawyer confident of his return to Australia


Hakeem Alaraibi started a hunger strike on Friday night as his lawyer says Bahrain's "bad rights record" will help the Australian-based refugee football player return to Australia from Thailand.

The lawyer for an Australia-based refugee soccer player facing extradition from Thailand to Bahrain is confident they will win the case based on the Gulf country's poor human rights record and the real threat to her client's life.

Nadthasiri Bergman, who has represented many refugees in Thailand, met with Hakeem Alaraibi, 25, on Friday night to discuss his upcoming court hearing after a Bangkok court issued a warrant for his arrest.

"I strongly believe that the Thai court should not extradite him to Bahrain because there is a lot of solid evidence of human rights abuse," Bergman told AAP.

Alaraibi has been held by Thai Immigration police since November 27 after Bahrain requested his detention for an alleged 2012 attack on a police station, an accusation he has denied.

A former member of the Bahrain national football team, he fled to Australia in 2014 and was granted refugee status after claiming he was subjected to torture and threats.

Bahrain sentenced him to 10 years in jail in absentia, but AlAraibi believes he will be tortured and killed if he is returned there.

Alaraibi, who has been an outspoken critic of Bahraini royal Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Federation, will be taken to a criminal court on Tuesday morning before a hearing date for the extradition case is set.

Hakeem Alaraibi plays for Melbourne team Pascoe Vale FC, the club has written a letter of support to the Thai PM.
Hakeem Alaraibi plays for Melbourne team Pascoe Vale FC, the club has written a letter of support to the Thai PM.

"The most important thing is that this is a political case and he was not involved in the incident," said Bergman.

Bergman said her client's refugee status and personal safety would be central to the case.

"The danger it's very real. That's why Australia granted him refugee (status)".

In its 2017-18 country report on Bahrain, Amnesty International said the government had "launched a large-scale campaign to clamp down on all forms of dissent" marked by travel bans, arrests, interrogations and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders.

Alaraibi is being held in the Immigration Detention Centre and on Friday night he started a hunger strike in support of his case.

"There is human rights in Australia and in Bahrain there is no human rights," he told BBC Thai.

The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) said Thailand had a poor record when it came to its international legal obligations on the treatment of refugees.

It is a party to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which prohibits the return of an individual to a country where they face torture and other human rights violations.

Supporters of Hakeem took to the streets in Melbourne and Sydney.
Supporters of Hakeem took to the streets in Melbourne and Sydney.
SBS News

APRRN program officer Sussi Prapakranant said Thailand had "long failed" to meet its obligations, citing the mass deportation of 109 Uighur men to China in 2015 at Beijing's request.

Prapakranant said since the recent appointment of Surachet Hakparn as head of Thai Immigration there has been an increase in mass arrests, raids, and detention of "persons of concern".

"Should Thailand decide to extradite AlAraibi to Bahrain, it would seriously call into question, if not actually make a complete mockery of the sincerity of its commitments to improving refugee protection," she told AAP.

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