Thailand says Australia to blame for arrest of refugee Bahraini footballer

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A coalition of Thai human rights and civil liberties groups, academics and leading legal figures have called on the Thai government to release refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi.

The Australian under-23s were due to train and play a friendly against China and Bangkok next month as part of their preparations for their forthcoming AFC U23 Championship qualifiers.

Despite calls from Australia for the Thai government to intervene and secure Al- Araibi's release, the Office of the Attorney-General said on Wednesday the case would proceed and the footballer was likely to be in custody until at least August.

Thailand's Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Tuesday that al-Araibi was detained on arrival because Australian authorities had forwarded them an Interpol Red Notice that Bahrain was seeking his arrest.

Thailand on Wednesday defended its arrest of a Bahraini footballer with refugee status in Australia, saying officials only detained him because Australian authorities sent an Interpol "red notice" after he boarded a plane to Bangkok.

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The Australian government, world football governing body Fifa and the global players' union FIFPro have all advocated the release of the player.

Australia's ambassador to Thailand, who appeared at the court Monday with AlAraibi, said in a statement that Bahrain had never requested AlAraibi's extradition in the four years he has lived in Australia.

Bahrain fails to mention the court ignored evidence that only minutes before the time of the alleged crime, Al-Araibi was playing in a televised football match broadcast on national television.

In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald published yesterday, Araibi urged Morrison to "please, please keep fighting for me, please keep working hard on my case".

The FFA has taken the decision to scrap a preparatory camp in Thailand's capital in protest at Al-Araibi's ongoing detainment.

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The Bahraini government claims Al-Araibi was convicted and sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for "terrorism-related offences, including an attack on a police station". "I have pointed this out in the engagements I've had with the Thai prime minister".

"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.

"I am respectfully reminding the Thai PM that Australians feel very strongly about this".

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Thai attorney-general has confirmed that the Extradition Act allows for such discretion.

"I've written to him again, because I was very disturbed at the appearance of Hakeem at the hearing the other day", Scott Morrison said. "Thailand can, and should, return Hakeem to Australia". We'll just consider the case based on the law and the need to maintain neutrality.

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The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) which is also a signatory, separately said the Thai attorney-general should use his discretion to withdraw the case to "reduce pressure from the worldwide community and make our stand to protect refugees from persecution". "He is at grave risk of unjust imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment if he is returned to Bahrain".

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