FIFA supports campaign that led to withdrawal of Thai extradition case against refugee footballer at risk of false imprisonment in Bahrain

In November 2018, refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi was detained in Thailand during his honeymoon, after an Interpol red notice was issued for his arrest

Al-Araibi has previously shared publicly that Bahraini authorities had arrested and tortured him in detention, allegedly for his brother’s political activities during the Arab Spring. He escaped to Australia in 2014 where he was granted refugee status and has lived since. Bahrain sentenced him in absentia to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalising a police station – charges he denies, pointing out that at the time of the supposed crime, he was playing in a televised football match for his local club Alshabab in Bahrain.

Following Al Araibi's detention in Thailand, human rights organisations and advocates from within the sporting world called on FIFA to stand with Al-Araibi and use its leverage to prevent the footballer's forced return to Bahrain. Similar calls to action were made of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

FIFA issued a statement requesting that "all the relevant authorities (in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia)... take the necessary steps to ensure that.. Al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia where he can resume his career as a professional footballer". The sporting body subsequently addressed a letter to the Thai Prime Minister "requesting a meeting and urging him to solve this issue at the earliest possible moment, in accordance with the relevant international standards".  The IOC backed FIFA's calls for Hakeem's release.

On February 11, 2019 media outlets reported Hakeem's release after Thai authorities withdrew the extradition case against him. Chatchom Akapin, the director general of the international affairs department of the attorney general’s office, said the primary reason was because “the Bahrain government no longer wants to pursue the extradition” of al-Araibi.

Coverage from The Guardian and Human Rights Watch as well as statements from FIFA are available below.

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29 November 2018

Australian refugee football player faces deportation after arrest in Thailand

Author: Helen Davidson, The Guardian

A refugee football player who lives in Australia has been detained in Thailand and is facing deportation back to the country he fled from, where he fears violence and persecution. Hakeem Al-Araibi told Guardian Australia he was arrested on an Interpol red notice for his conviction over an act of vandalism in Bahrain which he denies and says allegedly happened while he was playing in a televised football game. Since 2015 Interpol has said it would not allow red notices against confirmed refugees and asylum seekers from the countries they fled from... Al-Araibi arrived in Australia in 2015 and was granted refugee status and permanent residency in Australia three years later. A former member of Bahrain’s national football team, he has previously described being tortured and beaten by authorities who had accused him and other football players of setting fire to a police station, and he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in jail. Al-Araibi denies the charge and claims he was playing in a televised football match at the time of the alleged incident... Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said: “Interpol has violated its obligations, as Hakeem holds refugee status and returning him to Bahrain puts him at significant risk of torture and imprisonment...

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