BANGKOK — A refugee footballer at the center of worldwide attention is in a Bangkok court today to contest Thailand’s effort to extradite him to Bahrain.
Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali AlAraibi, who was detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport in December, arrived at the Ratchadapisek Court this morning and shouted to reporters and observers that he did not want to be sent back.
“Please tell them: Don’t send me to Bahrain,” the shackled AlAraibi said.
Former Australian national football team captain Craig Foster, who has been campaigning for AlAlraibi’s release, then called to the footballer to stay strong.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison sent a letter last month urging Thailand to stop the extradition, and football governing bodies and human rights activists have urged the country to let him return to Australia where he lives and plays for a semi-professional team in Melbourne.
The court could order further detention while his extradition is processed, or if alAraibi refuses to return to Bahrain willingly, a trial would be held. Thai officials previously said the length of the trial would depend on how many witnesses are called by each side.
AlAraibi was arrested as he was about to fly back from Bangkok to Australia, where he was granted political asylum. Despite calls from international rights groups for his freedom, Thai prosecutors recommended his extradition to the court last week. AlAlraibi is set to argue against the effort in the courtroom today.
Bahrain says he vandalized a police station, a crime alleged to have occurred while AlAraibi was playing a televised football match. Human rights activists say AlAraibi was tortured by Bahrain authorities in 2012 for his brother’s political activities and public criticism of the Bahraini royal family’s alleged involvement in sports scandals.
The footballer said his life would be in danger if sent back to the Gulf State.
Additional reporting Associated Press