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Bahraini held in Thailand a 'test' for FIFA: ex-Aussie captain

Bahraini held in Thailand a 'test' for FIFA: ex-Aussie captain

FRIDAY, January 25, 2019
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Former Australia football captain Craig Foster said on Friday a Bahraini refugee player held in Thailand is a 'test' for FIFA, as rights groups try to duplicate the asylum success story of a Saudi woman who avoided deportation from the country.

    Foster is in Bangkok helping with the fight to free Hakeem Alaraibi, who was granted refugee status in Australia after fleeing an Arab Spring crackdown but was detained trying to holiday in Thailand in late November.

    His case was brought into the spotlight afterwards when a young Saudi woman named Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun avoided the same fate by barricading herself in a hotel room and tweeting pleas for help earlier this month, securing asylum in Canada in one week.

    Alaraibi, who played for Bahrain's national side, is accusing of taking part in riots that damaged a police station but he says he was playing in a match at the time.

    Rights groups say he faces a 10-year prison sentence if he is sent back.

    He believes he is being targeted for vocally criticising and opposing the FIFA presidential candidacy of senior vice-president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.

    FIFA's secretary general Fatma Samoura wrote an open letter to Thailand's prime minister and junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Wednesday asking for Alaraibi to be allowed to go home.

    But Foster told reporters in Bangkok that it is "not enough" and that FIFA could consider sports sanctions against football federations in Thailand and Bahrain.

    "This is actually a seminal case to test the efficacy of the new human rights policy that FIFA has implemented," Foster said at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok.

    He visited Alaraibi in Bangkok Remand prison this week and said the footballer was in a "very low state psychologically". 

    A 60-day detention period ends on February 8 but Bahrain has yet to file a formal extradition request with the court, his lawyer said this week.

    Human Rights Watch said Alaraibi was met by Thai police after getting off the plane and that they had a copy of his passport when he was 16 years old.

    Foster, activists and Alaraibi's football team in Melbourne, where he plays for the semi-professional Pascoe Vale, have all taken to social media to raise awareness, hoping that the same pressure built by al-Qunun could help.

    They are using the #SaveHakeem hashtag after the #SaveRahaf campaign.  

    But Thailand's immigration chief has said the two cases are different and that there was an arrest warrant for Alaraibi.