KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- World football federation FIFA has stepped up its demand for the release by Thailand of Hakeem AlAraibi, a former Bahraini international who holds refugee status in Australia but is being detained by the Thai authorities at the request of the Gulf state.
AlAraibi, who fled to Australia in 2014 and settled in Melbourne where he plays for Pascoe Vale, has said he fears being tortured and killed if he is extradited back to Bahrain. He had been in Thailand on a permitted holiday.
He has said he was tortured for criticising Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, a royal family member who is now AFC president and FIFA vice-president, for failing to protect Bahraini athletes targeted in connection with pro-democracy protests in 2011.
Subsequently a Thai court convicted him in absentia of vandalising a police station, a charge he denies.
FIFA and its president Gianni Infantino have taken the lead over an issue on which the AFC and Sheikh Salman have been largely silent.
A new statement from FIFA said:
Following a renewed exchange with the Australian Football Federation, FIFA is again calling for a humane and speedy resolution of the case concerning the player Hakeem Al Araibi.
This player, a Bahrain national, is currently being detained in prison in Thailand awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings to Bahrain, where he was previously convicted of a criminal offense, the validity of which he strongly contests.
This situation should not have arisen, in particular, since Mr Al-Araibi now lives and works and plays as a professional footballer in Australia, where he has been accorded refugee status.
FIFA is therefore calling on all the relevant authorities (in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia) to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr Hakeem Al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia where he can resume his career as a professional footballer.
Human rights has proved a testing subject for football in recent years.
FIFA adopted a formal ‘human rights policy’ in May 2017 after heavy criticism for its lax attitude to construction workers’ conditions in another Gulf state, Qatar. Human rights observance has since been incorporated into event bidding guidelines.
As for the AFC, Article Three of its statutes commits it “to respecting all internationally-recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.”
Sheikh Salman has always denied any role in state reprisals against protesting sports men and women, an issue which dogged his vain attempt to defeat Infantino in the FIFA presidential election in 2016.
Currently Sheikh Salman is heading towards new elections within the AFC. Next April he is seeking re-election as president and is favourite to see off rivals from the United Arab Emirates and from Qatar. The position of AFC leader automatically carries the role of FIFA’s Asian vice-president.