BANGKOK: Thai prosecutors will oppose bail for a refugee football player detained in Bangkok and facing extradition to Bahrain, the office of the attorney general said Wednesday, citing flight risks.
Hakeem al-Araibi was granted refugee status in Australia after fleeing charges in Bahrain connected to Arab Spring protests but was stopped in Thailand in Nov attempting to go on his honeymoon.
He is wanted for damaging a police station but the former national youth footballer says the case is bogus and tied to his criticism of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s ruling family.
The 25-year-old fears being returned to Bahrain where he believes he could face imprisonment and torture.
A Thai court this week extended his detention by another 60 days after which he will have a chance to object to Bahrain’s extradition request.
The Thai attorney general’s Office told reporters Wednesday that with extradition requests bail would be opposed.
“If you look at the number of foreign defendants, they pay their bail and jump bail and then don’t show up in court,” Chatchom Akapin, the office’s director general for international affairs, said, adding that the policy applied “not only to Hakeem.”
A deputy spokesman for the office said the case was not political.
Araibi’s appearance in court this week fuelled outrage after he was brought in with ankle shackles.
Rights groups and the Australian government have repeatedly called for Araibi’s return and the case has become a cause celebre in the football world, with FIFA also urging the Thai premier to intervene.
Football Federation Australia (FFA) cancelled the under-23 men’s national team plans to hold a training camp and a friendly game in Thailand ahead of the AFC U23 Championship qualifiers next month.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Melbourne Wednesday he had now written two letters to his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-O-Cha and had stressed “just how strongly Australians feel about this”.
Australian officials have also been pressing the Bahraini government, Morrison said.
Thailand’s foreign ministry said this week it “does not gain anything” from holding Araibi but it had legal obligations and commitments to the international community.
It urged Australia and Bahrain to find a “mutually agreeable solution.”
But Amnesty International said Thai authorities were culpable for Araibi’s detention and were attempting to “pass the buck” by urging Australia and Bahrain to find a diplomatic compromise.
The Gulf state issued a statement this week defending its decision to pursue Araibi after he fled while awaiting trial.
It said he had been granted bail to travel for a football tournament and had violated the terms while taking “special consideration granted to him as a sportsman.”
He was convicted in absentia in 2014. Bahrain said he had the right to appeal as others involved in the case have done.