BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai public prosecutor on Friday submitted to a criminal court Bahrain’s extradition request for jailed footballer Hakeem Al Araibi, who fled his country amid political upheaval and has refugee status in Australia.
Araibi will have to appear at Thailand’s Criminal Court in Bangkok on Monday morning. His Thai lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman said Araibi will submit evidence to the court to fight his extradition.
The case has drawn appeals from Australia’s prime minister as well as soccer’s world governing body FIFA for Thailand to release Araibi and send him back to Australia on the grounds he could face torture in Bahrain.
Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and was later granted permanent residence in Australia, was arrested while on honeymoon in Bangkok in November on an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain’s request.
Interpol later rescinded the notice, but Thailand has continued to detain Araibi and Bahrain is pressing for his extradition.
Human Rights groups say Bahraini authorities tortured Araibi because of his brother’s political activities during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011. The Bahrain government denied the allegation.
Thailand received the extradition request for Araibi from Bahrain on Tuesday.
The Attorney General’s office has now determined that the request is in line with Thailand’s extradition law, said Chatchom Akapin, director of the office’s international affairs department.
“This case is not political but a criminal one,” Chatchom told Reuters.
“Bahrain has evidence of Hakeem’s criminal wrongdoing and if he doesn’t want to return to that country then he must contest that in the court and it will take months,” he said.
Araibi was convicted of vandalizing a police station in Bahrain and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia.
He denies any wrongdoing, saying he was playing in a televised football match at the time of the alleged vandalism.
Araibi’s wife on Wednesday pleaded with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha not to send her husband back to Bahrain, saying he faced imprisonment, torture and possible death.
Prosecutor Chatchom downplayed any danger to Araibi.
“There is also no evidence that he would be tortured if he returns, so he could go back and fight his case in their court,” Chatchom said.
Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Michael Perry