DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain’s government has submitted documents for the extradition of Hakeem Al Araibi, a Bahraini refugee footballer held in prison in Thailand, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.
Araibi, who has refugee status in Australia and is a vocal critic of Bahrain’s government, was convicted of vandalising a police station in 2014. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia and has denied wrongdoing.
Araibi was arrested in November in Bangkok, where he had travelled for his honeymoon, on an Interpol notice issued at the Gulf Arab state’s request. Under the Thai legal system, Bahrain must submit the documents for his extradition by Feb. 8 or apply for an extension for another 30 days.
Thai authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne had urged Thai authorities to release Araibi while rights groups have said he was persecuted for political reasons.
Bahraini Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa said in a statement to Reuters that proceedings to extradite him to Bahrain are ongoing and criticised what he described as “external interference” in Manama’s internal affairs.
“Those who speak now of Al Araibi having been mistreated and those who question the integrity of Bahrain’s courts ignore the fact that Al Araibi was released on bail of 100 dinars by the courts,” the statement added.
Bahraini authorities have said Araibi can return to appeal against the sentence, noting that others arrested with Araibi who have done so have been acquitted.
The minister said Araibi, who was allowed to travel with the national soccer team while on bail, had fled to Iran from Qatar “never to return”.
Araibi was granted asylum in Australia, where he now plays, in 2017 after fleeing Bahrain three years earlier.
He was a critic of Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s ruling family and cousin of the king, when he contested the FIFA presidential election in 2015. Sheikh Salman is president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
The AFC said last week that the president had been recused from all matters relating to West Asia and AFC Vice President Praful Patel was working with global governing body FIFA “to find a solution” to the matter of Araibi’s detention.
Human Rights Watch said Araibi was tortured by Bahraini authorities because of his brother’s political activities during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011. Bahraini authorities deny allegations of torture.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, editing by Ed Osmond)