Australia scraps game in Thailand, campaigns to free refugee

Bahrain Bahraini Hakeem al-Araibi, center, leaves the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Feb. 4, 2019. The soccer player who has refugee status in Australia told a Thai court Monday that he refuses to be voluntarily extradited to Bahrain, ... more > Print By -

SYDNEY (AP) - Australian soccer authorities have canceled a game in Thailand to protest the continued detention in Bangkok of a refugee player who is fighting extradition to Bahrain .

Football Federation Australia announced Wednesday it had scrapped the game against China, a scheduled warmup ahead of next month’s qualifiers for the Asian under-23 championships.

Former Australia national team captain Craig Foster and the Australian and international players’ unions have been leading a campaign for the release of Hakeem al-Araibi , a refugee who lives and plays for a semi-professional club in Australia and has been held in Thailand since November at the request of Bahrain .

“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,” Australia coach Graham Arnold said.

The 25-year-old al-Araibi , a former Bahraini national team player, has said he fled his home country due to political repression and fears he is at risk of being tortured if he returns to Bahrain .

Al-Araibi ’s supporters have said he should be freed and is protected under his status as a refugee with Australian residency. Foster and the players unions’ have called on the International Olympic Committee to consider sporting sanctions against Thailand and Bahrain .

The Australian government has urged Thailand to exercise its legal discretion to free al-Araibi , who told a Bangkok court on Monday that he refuses to be voluntarily extradited to Bahrain .

Al-Araibi will stay in custody until an April 22 trial to determine whether Thai authorities will send him to Bahrain or release him so he can return to Australia.

A chained al-Araibi yelled to reporters outside court as he was escorted by prison guards into Monday’s hearing in Bangkok: “Please speak to Thailand, don’t send me to Bahrain . Bahrain won’t defend me.”

Bahrain wants al-Araibi returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence he received in absentia in 2014 for an alleged arson attack that damaged a police station, which he denies.


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