Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday said that he was “disturbed” to see Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi in shackles in Thailand, adding that he told the Thai prime minister that the matter was a “serious issue for Australians”.
“I thought that was very upsetting and I know it would have upset many Australians, and I respectfully reminded the Thai prime minister that Australians feel very strongly about this,” Reuters quoted Morrison as saying.
“We will continue to make these representations and not just to Thailand, but also to Bahrain,” he stressed.
Pressure is mounting on Bangkok to release Al-Araibi, who was arrested by Thai authorities in November on behalf of the Bahraini government. Both Canberra and the International Federation of Football (FIFA) have called for his return to Australia where he plays football.
Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 before being granted a permanent residence in Australia, has said that he would face torture if he was sent back to Bahrain for his criticism of the royal family.
The Thai court working on Al-Araibi’s case yesterday extended his detention for another two months.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced on Tuesday that his government could not intervene in the court proceedings. “Do not jump to conclusion about the verdict and do not politicise this,” Prayuth said.
The Bahraini defendant was convicted of “vandalising a police station in Bahrain” and was sentenced to ten years in prison in absentia. He has repeatedly denied the accusations, stressing that he was playing in a televised soccer match at the time.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Al-Araibi was also tortured by Bahraini authorities over his brother’s political activities during the so-called 2011 Arab Spring. But Bahraini authorities deny the allegations.
In solidarity with Al-Araibi, many Thais, including the former deputy prime minister Chaturon Chaisang, have called for his release. They also created a #SaveHakeem hashtag which was joined by the Thai soccer team Chiang Rai United.
On Tuesday, Australia’s football governing body, Football Federation Australia, pledged 10,000 Australian dollars ($7,263) to start another campaign, calling for AL-Araibi’s release and return.