Sunday 3 February 2019 - 03:59

Wife of Bahraini Footballer Begs for His Release

Story Code : 775685
Wife of Bahraini Footballer Begs for His Release
In the open letter on Wednesday to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Araibi's wife said her husband, who has been held for more than two months on an extradition request, faces torture in Bahrain and should be sent back to asylum in Australia.

"He would go back to face imprisonment, torture and possible death. Please help my husband. I don't want to lose him," she wrote, asking for her name not to be published out of fear of her safety.

"I am terrified that the final decision to deport him will take place within the next few days," she said in the letter, which was obtained from al-Araibi's lawyer, Nadthasiri Bergman.

Al-Araibi, 25, fled the country in 2014, saying he had been tortured in Bahrain after his arrest in 2012. Australia granted him political asylum in 2017 and he played for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale Football Club before his detention.

He was arrested in November by Thai police, who said they were acting on an international arrest warrant - known as an Interpol "Red Notice" - issued by Bahrain, when the footballer arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon.

A court ruled in December he could be held for 60 days pending the completion of an extradition request by Bahrain.

Bahrain wants its former national team player returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence that was handed down in absentia after he was accused of vandalizing a police station - a charge he denies.

Araibi's wife also sent a letter to the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, pleading with him to put pressure on the Thai authorities to release him.

“Time is running out, and I am pleading desperately to you as a humanitarian, and someone who would not hesitate to stand with justice, please please help my husband,” she wrote, citing Canada’s swift offer of resettlement to the Saudi refugee Rahaf al-Qunun.

“His refugee status relates to his persecution in Bahrain. This in itself should be sufficient to showcase the inhumanity of extraditing him back to Bahrain, let alone the fact that it is illegal.”

Her plea came as the Asian Football Confederation, widely criticised for its failure to lobby on al-Araibi’s behalf, despite its Bahraini president and strong leverage with Thailand, finally called for the player’s release.

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, wrote to his Thai counterpart to push for al-Araibi’s release for the first time last week, adding to pressure brought by Australia’s foreign affairs minister over the previous two months.

On Monday, Bahrain lodged its formal extradition application with a Thai court, a week ahead of its 8 February deadline.

In a separate letter to the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, al-Araibi’s wife described how their honeymoon turned into a nightmare.

“My husband is going through the hardest days of his life all these 60 days,” she wrote. In her letters to both the Canadian and New Zealand leaders, she said the “illegal refoulement” sought by Bahrain would put al-Araibi’s life “in certain danger of persecution, imprisonment and possible death”.

“I am terrified that the final decision to deport him will take place within the next few days.”

Multiple governments, human rights groups and world football bodies have lobbied for al-Araibi’s release. Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, has publicly and privately put pressure on Thailand to release him, including during a ministerial visit to the country, and again in public statements on Tuesday afternoon.

However, football bodies have been criticised for being slow to join the efforts, in particular the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and its Bahraini royal president, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa.

On Tuesday, 63 days after al-Araibi was first arrested and three days after the AFC suddenly announced that al-Khalifa had been recused from regional responsibilities 18 months ago, it pleaded directly with the Thai prime minister for his release.

The request for “immediate intervention” from the AFC vice president to allow al-Araibi’s return to Australia came after Bahrain lodged its extradition papers, setting a Thai court process in motion.

On Tuesday, Morrison’s office confirmed he wrote to Thailand’s prime minister, Prayuth Chan-o-cha, last week, to emphasise al-Araibi’s refugee status in Australia, and said that returning him to Bahrain would infringe on his human rights under international law.

There remain multiple questions about the role of Australian authorities in al-Araibi’s detention, including how the issuing of a red notice against someone to whom Australia had given refugee status went unnoticed. The Australian federal police is also facing questions after notifying Thailand of al-Araibi’s travel plans.

Al-Araibi has said he specifically asked Australian authorities if he was safe to travel to Thailand and was told he was.

On Monday, Bahrain’s interior minister, Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, defended his government’s pursuit of al-Araibi, saying concerns he would face torture and unjust imprisonment if he was returned were “false reports”.

“The external interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain is unacceptable,” he said. “Those raising unfounded doubts about the integrity and independence of the kingdom’s judicial system are not only interfering but also attempting to influence the course of justice.”

In response, human rights groups have pointed to multiple investigations and reports on the torture and mistreatment of prisoners and targeting of opposition figures by the Bahraini justice system.