SIDNEY – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday he was “disturbed” to see Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi in shackles in Thailand and had told its prime minister this was a serious issue for Australians.
Mr Araibi while he was brought on Monday from the Bangkok Remand Prison to the Criminal Court where public prosecutors sought an order to extradite him to Bahrain. The pictures of Mr Araibi hobbling into the court in shackles caused expressions of shock around the world.
The use of ankle cuffs on Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi was a carefully-weighed decision to prevent any incidents while taking him to court, Narat Svetanan, director-general of the Corrections Department, said.
Pressure is mounting on Bangkok to free Araibi, who was arrested in Thailand in November on behalf of the Bahraini government, with Canberra and soccer’s world governing body Fifa demanding his return to Australia where he plays.
Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 before being granted permanent residence in Australia, has said he would face torture if sent back to Bahrain for his criticism of the royal family.
— James Massola (@jamesmassola) February 4, 2019
Mr Morrison said he was “disturbed” to see Hakeem al-Araibi with shackles on his feet arrive at a Bangkok court on Monday. The court extended his detention for two months.
“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,” Mr Morrison told Sky News.
“So we will continue to make these representations and not just to Thailand, but also to Bahrain,” he added.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, leader of the junta, said on Tuesday his government could not intervene in the court proceedings.
“Do not jump to conclusion about the ruling and do not politicize this,” Gen Prayut told reporters.
FM Don Pramudwinai was granted a Royal Audience with His Royal Highness Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister of Bahrain, on 21 Feb 2018, during his visit to attend the 3rd #HJC for Bilateral Cooperation between #Thailand and #Bahrain #HJCThaiBahrain #Manama pic.twitter.com/FZ7HzZyEEL
— กระทรวงการต่างประเทศ | MFA of Thailand (@MFAThai) February 21, 2018
Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said Australia and Bahrain should negotiate a solution.
“We don’t have a stake in this and it’s a matter that the two countries need to talk,” Mr Don told reporters.
“If they can’t find a solution, then Thailand is ready to mediate. I am sure things will not escalate, but for now Hakeem will be under the care of Thai authorities.”
Araibi was convicted of vandalizing a police station in Bahrain and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia.
He denies wrongdoing, saying he was playing in a televised soccer match at the time.
Araibi was tortured by Bahraini authorities because of his brother’s political activities during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, New York-based Human Rights Watch has said.
Bahraini authorities deny allegations of torture.
Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director, said Araibi’s return to Australia “is an open-and-shut case”.
“Everybody seems to realise that except the Thai government,” he told Reuters.
— JuyHoaKau (@HoaJuy) February 5, 2019
Many Thais, including former deputy prime minister Chaturon Chaisang, have called for Araibi’s release, on Tuesday evening, two hashtags dominated the social media site: #BoycottThailand, #SaveHakeem.
Thai soccer team Chiang Rai United have also joined the campaign to free Araibi, who played for Melbourne’s second tier Pascoe Vale soccer club.
Football Federation Australia have ramped up their campaign to free Araibi and pledged A$10,000 ($7,263) on Tuesday to kick start a fundraising drive to help return him to Australia.
By Paulina Duran, Panu Wongcha-um