Thai gov’t tells Bahrain and Australia to ‘talk’ over detained refugee Araibi


Bahraini soccer player with Australian refugee status Hakeem Al-Araibi (2-L) walks while escorted by Thai prison officers following an extradition hearing at the Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand, Feb. 4, 2019. EPA-EFE/DIEGO AZUBEL

BANGKOK.- The Thai government urged Manama and Canberra to talk to each other about their tug of war over a Bahraini refugee detained in Bangkok on Wednesday as Football Federation Australia canceled a training camp in the Southeast Asian capital.

In a statement, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs defended its detention of Hakeem al-Araibi, an Australian resident and recognized refugee, who was held on Nov. 27 upon arrival from Melbourne to Bangkok with his wife for their honeymoon.

The former Bahraini national soccer player is detained at Bangkok Remand Prison while a court considers deporting him to his native country, where he fears for his life and where he says he was once tortured.

In the statement, the Thai foreign affairs ministry said Bahrain and Australia need to “talk to each other to sort out their problems and come up with their own solution, instead of trying to find an indirect solution from Thailand, who has only become involved in this case by chance.”

“Thailand does not gain anything from holding Mr. Hakeem in custody. But as a sovereign country that has legal obligations and commitments to the international community, Thailand finds itself in the middle of a case involving two countries competing for Mr. Hakeem’s custody,” it added.

“Thailand hopes that Australia and Bahrain will have the goodwill to earnestly work together towards finding a win-win solution to this issue,” it said.

The statement said that by the time Australian authorities informed Thailand the Interpol red notice – which led to Araibi’s arrest in Bangkok – had been lifted, legal proceedings had already begun and “could not be reversed.”

Thailand’s attorney general apparently has the powers of executive discretion and can release Araibi at any point.

On Feb. 1, the public prosecutor’s office presented before the court an extradition request, filed a few days earlier by Bahrain. On Monday, the court extended Araibi’s detention for 60 days without bail for his lawyers to prepare a defense.

Entering the court, Araibi shouted, «Don’t send me back to Bahrain.»

Also on Wednesday, Football Federation Australia canceled a proposed trip to Bangkok for the under 23 men’s national team who were to play China as preparation for the 2020 AFC U23 Championship qualifiers in Cambodia in March.

“On our return from the recent AFC Asian Cup we reassessed our plans due to the ongoing detainment of Australian footballer Hakeem al-Araibi in a Thai prison,” Under 23 Head Coach Graham Arnold said in a statement.

“Australia’s national teams are united in their support for Hakeem al-Araibi and we call on the community to continue to campaign for his release,” Arnold said, adding that the pre-tournament camp is being arranged in another Asian country.

Araibi’s detention has attracted increasing attention and widespread condemnation from governments, rights groups and the international sporting community.

Australia has demanded his release and Bahrain has slammed outside interference in the country’s internal affairs as it seeks the return of Araibi, who was convicted in absentia for vandalizing a police station, a charge he denies.

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