Football reform campaign group, #NewFIFANow, has called on the President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, to use his influence to free Hakeem Al-Araibi from a Bangkok jail.
As we have previously written about, the case of refugee football player Hakeem Al-Araibi involves three countries taking part in the Asian Cup: Australia, Thailand, and Bahrain, the nation of Shaikh Salman.
Al-Araibi has been in jail in Bangkok since November, after he travelled there with his wife for a holiday.
“As a refugee with legal rights and specific status under international refugee conventions, Mr Al-Araibi is entitled to protection because of the refugee status granted to him by the Australian government. The Thai government should let this young man go, and the Bahrain government should not be seeking his return to Bahrain,” said #NewFIFANow spokesman, Jaimie Fuller.
Al-Araibi was allegedly detained by Thai authorities on the request of the Bahrain government when they learned he was travelling out of Australia.
According to Fatima Yazbek of the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (GIDHR), Al-Araibi has also been unable to see or speak with his wife for the past three weeks, or use the 'phone, internet or communicate with human rights advocates.
“Once the courts set a date for his hearing he was transferred to a prison. We have not been able to contact him via 'phone anymore and recently he's even not allowed to have access to paper and a pen,” Ms Yazbek said in a statement to Football Today.
“We've tried to have permission granted to send him letters or have him send them to his wife, but prison authorities refused.”
Ms Yazbek also called on the Australian Foreign Minister, Senator Marise Payne, to raise Al-Araibi's case when she visits Thailand in the near future.
“We call on her to raise Hakeem’s case with her Thai counterpart, and put pressure on Thai authorities to allow Al-Araibi to return back to Melbourne and prevent his extradition to Bahrain, which are creating various kinds of torture to take revenge of their opponents.”
Ms Yazbek said that GIDHR is yet to receive any explanation from Australian authorities as to why Al-Araibi was detained. She said that, under international refugee conventions, Al-Araibi should be afforded protection when overseas which is what he had been assured by Australian authorities.
According to #NewFIFANow, the AFC President is in a unique position to influence the Al-Araibi case.
“We all know that the President of the Asian Football Confederation, Shaikh Salman, is an important member of the Bahrain Royal Family, and it is entirely within his power to order that Mr Al-Araibi’s illegal detention in Thailand cease, and allow him to travel home to Australia immediately,” said Mr Fuller.
“We also all know that Hakeem Al-Araibi was a vocal critic of Shaikh Salman’s candidacy for the FIFA President in 2016.
“Despite that criticism, we would be shocked if Shaikh Salman condoned the flagrant disregard of international conventions regarding the right and status of refugees, and we call on him to urge the Bahrain government to stop their reported action against a vulnerable individual.
“Mr Al-Araibi is also a football player in one of Australia’s domestic competitions.
“Considering Asia’s biggest football tournament is about to get underway, with Australia, Bahrain and Thailand all involved, Shaikh Salman could show the football world that he respects the rule of international law and champion the freedom of Hakeem Al-Araibi.
“Living in Australia, playing football and contributing to the Australian community, Mr Al-Araibi is doing Shaikh Salman, the Bahrain Royal Family or the good people of Bahrain no harm.
“By keeping Mr Al-Araibi in jail in Thailand, at the request of the Bahrain government, immeasurable harm is being done to the reputation of both the Bahrain and Thai governments,” Mr Fuller said.
#NewFIFANow has urged football supporters, human rights advocates, and players to help #SaveHakeem by use of the hashtag in English or in Arabic أنقذوا_حكيم# on social media and by writing to relevant football and government authorities.