January 23, 2019 / 10:55 AM / 5 months ago

Australia's ex-captain says FIFA must help Bahraini footballer held in Thailand

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Former Australian soccer captain Craig Foster called on Wednesday on the sport’s governing body, FIFA, to do more to press for the release of a Bahraini refugee player detained in Thailand and facing deportation to his country.

FILE PHOTO: Hakeem AlAraibi, a former member of Bahrain's national soccer team who holds a refugee status in Australia arrives at court after he was arrested last month on arrival at a Bangkok airport based on an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain's request, in Bangkok, Thailand December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

Thai authorities arrested Hakeem AlAraibi, who has refugee status in Australia, on arrival at Bangkok airport in November last year, on the basis of an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain’s request.

AlAraibi was convicted of vandalizing a police station in Bahrain and sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia.

He has denied any wrongdoing but now awaits a Thai court hearing and faces the possibility of being sent to Bahrain.

FIFA has issued a statement calling for the AlAraibi’s release but Foster says it must do more.

“The FIFA president, or the general secretary ... should be here to tell the Thai government that you must respect football,” Foster told Reuters in an interview in Bangkok on Wednesday.

“If you don’t respect football players, you don’t respect the game.”

AlAraibi has been a vocal critic of the president of the Asia Football Confederation, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, who is a cousin of the Bahraini king.

Human rights groups say Bahraini authorities tortured AlAraibi because of his brother’s political activities during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011.

“He knows that by speaking out against the Bahrain government and Sheikh Salman, the AFC president, that has put him in a position of retribution and this really is what it’s about,” Foster said.

“Now his human rights have been breached and it is not OK. It is not acceptable. We want him back in Australia where we granted him protection,” he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne traveled to Bangkok this month and told Thai authorities that Australia was concerned about AlAraibi’s detention and the possibility he would be sent back to Bahrain.

Reporting by Jiraporn Kuhakan; Writing by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Robert Birsel

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