Not such a beautiful game: Ahead of Bahrain-Thailand soccer match Amnesty International calls on AFC President to support detained footballer Hakeem al-Araibi

9 January 2561

Amnesty International Australia

Bahrain and Thailand will meet today as part of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. But while the two countries vie for supremacy on the field, their collusion off the field means that the future of Hakeem al-Araibi, the Melbourne soccer player who fled Bahrain and was granted refugee status in Australia, remains perilous.


Dr Graham Thom, refugee coordinator at Amnesty International Australia said:


“It is time for leaders in the soccer community to stand up for Hakeem. Amnesty welcomes the news that the FFA has met with Sheikh Salman bin Al Khalifa to discuss Hakeem’s plight. As AFC President, Salman has a moral and professional obligation to support Hakeem.


"As a leader in Asia, and a Bahraini, Sheikh Salman is in a position of influence. And yet he has been conspicuously silent. By not standing up and condemning Bahrain and Thailand’s actions, the AFC is failing to uphold the values and integrity of the ‘beautiful game’.


“Thailand must not be complicit in supporting the oppressive regimes in Bahrain and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, by putting individuals at risk of torture, imprisonment or death.


“The Australian Government continues to work with Thai authorities to get Hakeem home, but the time has come for the soccer community to join the fight and put pressure on Thailand. Hakeem will not be safe until he is back home in Australia. As a recognised refugee with approved travel documents, he should never have been detained. He faces torture and possible death if he is sent back to Bahrain.


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Melbourne-based soccer play al-Araibi has now been held for more than 40 days awaiting possible extradition to Bahrain.

Travelling on an Australian travel document, al-Araibi was detained with his wife upon his arrival in Bangkok on Tuesday 27 November 2018.

Hakeem and his wife were transferred into detention at Suan Plu immigration detention centre (IDC) on Sunday 2 December. On 3 December, Hakeem was taken to court and served with a 12-day detention order. On his way back to Suan Plu IDC, his mobile phone was confiscated.

Hakeem was sentenced to ten years in prison in an unfair trial in Bahrain in 2014. It was not the first time he has been persecuted and suffered serious human rights violations. A former player of Bahrain’s national soccer team, he has spoken out about a senior Bahraini official’s practice of torturing footballers who participate in demonstrations. He was himself arrested in November 2012 and tortured.

He has since spoken publicly about his torture, stating “They blindfolded me (… and) beat my legs really hard, saying: ‘You will not play soccer again. We will destroy your future.’ ”

Later, al-Araibi fled to Australia, where he was recognised as a refugee in 2017.

He was informed upon his arrival in Bangkok he would be returned to Bahrain, where he almost certainly faces imprisonment and torture.

Under international law, it is prohibited to return an individual to a territory place when there is a reasonable fear that the individual will be at real risk of suffering torture or other serious human rights violations.