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AFP: Refugee Footballer from Bahrain Held at Bangkok Airport

2018-11-30 - 7:41 p

Bahrain Mirror- AFP: A former Bahrain national team footballer who fled to Australia due to political repression said Thursday he fears being returned to the Gulf state after he was detained at a Bangkok airport.

Hakeem Al-Araibi was swept up in a 2012 Bahrain government crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired protests, and later convicted in absentia on charges of vandalising a police station.

He says he was playing football at the time of the alleged crime.

The 25-year-old was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017, where he has played for semi-professional club Pascoe Vale FC.

But he was held on Tuesday as he landed for a holiday in Thailand at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport.

A Thai foreign ministry spokeswoman said Alaraibi was stopped on an Interpol red notice -- a non-binding request to comply with national arrest warrants.

"I'm nervous. I don't want to go back to Bahrain... it's very dangerous for me there," Al-Araibi, an Australian passport holder, told AFP from the detention room.

Bahrain, an oil-rich Sunni-led country home to the US Fifth Fleet, crushed Arab Spring protests by its Shiite majority.

Al-Araibi says he was beaten in custody and believes he was targeted because he is Shiite and due to his brother's political activism.

He also publicly opposed the FIFA presidential candidacy for Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's ruling monarchy and the president of the Asian Football Confederation.

Thailand does not recognise refugees but often finds itself at the centre of geopolitical disputes over them.

In 2015, Thailand was heavily criticised for deporting more than 100 Uighurs back to China, where the Muslim minority face persecution.

Dozens of Pakistani Christians have been rounded up in recent weeks as part of a visa overstay crackdown.

The Thai foreign ministry spokeswoman said Thailand was "considering to proceed in accordance with Thai law" in Alaraibi's case.

Sunai Phasuk, senior Thailand researcher for Human Rights Watch, told AFP that "under no circumstances" should Alaraibi be handed over to Bahrain.

"Hakeem is a refugee accepted by Australia, so Thailand should do the right thing by sending him back to Australia on the next flight," he said, adding that Alaraibi faces a prison term of up to 10 years in Bahrain.

A spokesperson for Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told AFP that embassy officials in Bangkok are in "direct contact with Thai authorities regarding this issue".

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