Australia's PM Scott Morrison calls on Thai government to release footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi
Last Updated: 11/02/19 9:31am
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Asian football chiefs called on the Thai government to release footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi as prosecutors in Bangkok acknowledged receipt of an extradition request from Bahrain on Tuesday.
Bahraini Al-Araibi, who fled to Australia from his homeland in 2014 and was later granted asylum, was arrested in November in Bangkok on an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain's request.
The Australian Prime Minister's office confirmed that Morrison had written a letter to his Thai counterpart Prayuth Chan-ocha asking that Al-Araibi be allowed to return home.
"The PM reminded the Thai prime minister that he is a refugee that has been given permanent residency, he should be released," one source familiar with the details of the letter told Reuters.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) also wrote to the Thai Prime Minister, a significant move because the regional governing body, which had been criticised for its silence on the case, is run by a leading Bahraini, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa.
Al-Araibi was a vocal critic of Sheikh Salman, a member of Bahrain's ruling family and a cousin of the king, when the AFC President contested the FIFA presidential election in 2015.
The AFC said on Saturday that Sheikh Salman had been recused from matters relating to West Asia 18 months ago to ensure there were no accusations of a conflict of interest and that Vice President Praful Patel would oversee the Al-Araibi case.
"I hereby respectfully request Your Excellency to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr aI-Araibi is returned safely to Australia, where he has been granted refugee status, at the earliest possible opportunity," Patel wrote to Prayuth.
Al-Araibi was convicted of vandalising a police station in Bahrain and sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia. He denies wrongdoing.