Who is Hakeem Al-Araibi? The Australian refugee & ex-Bahrain footballer being held prisoner in Thailand

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The player fears persecution if Bahrain's extradition request is granted and officials from his adopted country are fighting for his release

Hakeem Al-Araibi, a professional footballer from Bahrain, currently finds himself at the centre of a diplomatic dispute involving three countries over a controversial extradition attempt.

Officially recognised as a refugee by Australia, he has been a semi-professional player in the country for the past four years, but could be forced back to his native country to serve time in prison.

He has been locked in a Thailand prison since November 2018 as allegations dating back to the start of the decade continue to haunt him.

As human rights campaigners and the Australian government step up their attempts to have Hakeem released, Goal takes a look at Al-Araibi, why he is in jail and what's being done about it.


Who is Hakeem Al-Araibi?


Al-Araibi (also referred to in some reports as al-Oraibi) is a footballer from Bahrain who has become entangled in an international extradition crisis involving Australia, Thailand and Bahrain.

He played most recently for Pascoe Vale, a semi-professional team plying its trade in Australia's National Premier Leagues Victoria, which is a second-tier league in the country.

Now 26, Al-Araibi has previously represented Bahrain at international level prior to the events which precipitated his flight to Australia.


Why is Hakeem Al-Araibi being detained?


Hakeem Al-Araibi

In 2014, Al-Araibi was sentenced in absentia by authorities in Bahrain to 10 years in prison on the charge of vandalising a police station during the 2012 Arab Spring protests.

He subsequently fled to Australia, where he was granted refugee status and permanent residency. He continued playing football in his new homeland, turning out for Goulburn Valley Suns and, most recently, Pascoe Vale.

Hakeem's brother, Emad Ali Mohamed Al-Araibi, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in Bahrain for political activism related to the same alleged incident that stems from a coerced confession.

The footballer denies the allegations and explained to the New York Times in 2016 that he was playing in a televised game at the time the vandalism he is accused of was said to have taken place.

After a number of years living as a refugee in Australia, the issue of Al-Araibi's conviction in Bahrain resurfaced in late 2018, when he was arrested while on his way to a holiday in Thailand on November 27.

Authorities in Thailand detained him at a Bangkok airport following the issue of a 'red notice' - a request to locate and arrest an individual pending extradition - from international police organisation Interpol.

Despite the fact that the red notice was subsequently withdrawn amid allegations it contravened its own regulations, Al-Araibi is still being held in prison and, in December 2018, his detention was extended for 60 to 90 days, during which time Thai immigration authorities are able to prepare his extradition to Bahrain.

During his detention, which sees him housed with approximately 50 other prisoners, Al-Araibi is not permitted to speak to his wife and he cannot receive or make phone calls.

He has expressed his intention to remain strong and positive, but conceded that the ordeal is beginning to affect him deeply.

"I'm trying to be brave," he told the ABC. "But inside I'm broken."


What are football authorities doing about Hakeem Al-Araibi's case?


Hakeem Al-Araibi Australia

Al-Araibi's case has received global coverage and he is being supported in his efforts to return to Australia by a number of football's governing bodies as well as diplomats in Australia.

The hope held by those advocating for the footballer's release is that sufficient pressure will be applied on the Thai authorities so that he will ultimately be permitted to go back to Australia.

FIFA has called for a "humane and speedy resolution" and said that "the situation should not have arisen" due to the footballer's refugee status.

In a statement, the world football governing body urged "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".

The Football Federation Australia (FFA) has also been increasingly active in expressing its concern for Al-Araibi in recent weeks as extradition becomes a distinct possibility.

FFA CEO David Gallop reiterated his association's support for the player in a statement shared on Twitter, saying: "We remain very concerned about Mr Al-Araibi. We call on the governments of Thailand, Bahrain and Australia to continue to work to secure his release in accordance with international human rights conventions."

However, some criticism has been aimed at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), with former Australia captain Craig Foster particularly vocal on the matter.

Foster has highlighted the fact that the AFC president is Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, a member of the Bahraini royal family whom al-Araibi spoke out against in the past.

"He's a human rights defender," Foster said of Al-Araibi.

"He's a very courageous young man, who, in 2016, stood up to the Bahraini government, stood up to Sheikh Salman, the president of the AFC, and was critical of them and their conduct during that period."

According to the Guardian, Australian football executives met with Sheikh Salman at the 2019 Asian Cup in January to stress their desire to have the player freed and allowed to return to Australia.

Back in Australia, Al-Araibi has also received significant support from his club Pascoe Vale, with the player's team-mate Gonzalo Abascal visiting him in prison.

"It was pretty shocking, but it was good to see him. Just to see him in that situation and in that place was not very nice," Abascal said in an interview with ABC News.

"The only thing that concerns him is that he doesn't want to go back to Bahrain. He told me that he knows Bahrain and how the people work there, he knows it's not going to be nice if he goes back there.

"He's just waiting for Australia to help him to come back to Australia."

The country's foreign minister, Marise Payne, has been a strong advocate for Al-Araibi's return to Australia and has held discussions with Thailand's foreign minister, Don Pramudwinai, on the issue.

On social media platforms such as Twitter, people calling for Al-Araibi's release are using the hashtag "#SaveHakeem".

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