(Reuters) – International football’s governing body FIFA says a Bahraini refugee player facing possible deportation from Thailand, should be freed and be allowed to return to Australia to continue his career.
Thai authorities arrested Hakeem Al Araibi, who plays in Australia where he has refugee status, on arrival at a Bangkok airport in November, based on an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain’s request.
Al Araibi was convicted of vandalising a police station in Bahrain and sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia. He has denied any wrongdoing.
“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,” the organisation said in a statement on Wednesday.
“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 offence, the validity of which he strongly contests,” continued the statement.
Al Araibi, who used to play for the Bahrain national team, was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 and now plays for Melbourne club Pascoe Vale, a second tier club.
The player has been a vocal critic of the president of the Asian Football Confederation, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, who is a cousin of the Bahraini king.
Sheikh Salman is senior vice-president of FIFA and ran for president of the body in 2016, losing to current chief Gianni Infantino.
During the campaign Sheikh Salman was strongly criticised by some human rights groups. He denied claims that he had been involved in investigating and prosecuting athletes active in Bahrain’s democracy protests in 2011.
“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,” said FIFA.
“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.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge)