Thai court to rule on extradition request for Bahrain footballer

A Thai court will rule next week on a request by Bahrain to extradite a former national team footballer, an immigration official said Friday, as FIFA urged his release back to Australia where he has refugee status.

Hakeem Alaraibi was stopped by Thai immigration on November 27 after arriving in Bangkok from Australia for a vacation with his wife.

He has since been held in detention, where he has largely been kept in the dark on the court procedures regarding his fate.

The 25-year-old, who now plays for semi-professional club Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne, says he was arrested and beaten at the start of the Arab Spring protests in the Gulf state in 2012 and was granted refugee status in Australia five years later.

He was convicted in absentia on charges of vandalising a police station in Bahrain.

But Alaraibi says he was out of the country playing in a match at the time of the alleged offence.

The attorney-general's office on Friday submitted an extradition case to the criminal court on Bahrain's behalf as the Gulf state has an outstanding arrest warrant for Alaraibi.

Colonel Thatchapong Sarawan-Ankura, chief of the immigration detention centre -- where Alaraibi is being held -- said the court then "issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Hakeem".

"He will be sent to the court on Tuesday morning" to plead his case, said Thatchapong, adding that the extradition request going through will "depend on the court".

A lawyer acting for Alaraibi confirmed the arrest approval and said that in court "they will ask if he rejects or agrees to go back to Bahrain".

"He didn't do anything wrong in Thailand... so there is no grounds (for detention)," Nadthasiri Bergman told AFP, slamming it as a "political case".

Alaraibi told AFP that he was fearful about being sent back to Bahrain.

"I feel very nervous now," he said. "You can see the news about Bahrain -- there are no human rights there."

Earlier in the day, Thailand's immigration chief Surachate Hakparn had told reporters that Alaraibi was stopped in Bangkok on "Bahrain's request" as the two countries have "cordial, good relations".

He said the footballer can appeal a negative verdict.

FIFA, the international governing body for football, on Thursday called for Alaraibi's release and for the "Thai authorities to allow (Alaraibi) to return to Australia... at the earliest possible moment".

Extraditing Alaraibi to Bahrain will "breach international law and cross a red line", said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.

Alaraibi's only crime "has been to tell the truth about his government's ruthless torture", he said, adding "the world should not underestimate how far the Gulf states will go to repress dissent".

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