Aust union lobbies for detained footballer

By AAP Newswire

The head of the Australian soccer players union wants the sport's regional governing body to help secure the release of a Bahraini refugee footballer arrested in Thailand in November.

Hakeem Al Araibi, who played in the National Premier League Victoria for semi-professional Pascoe Vale last year, had flown to the Asian nation for his honeymoon in November. He was arrested in Bangkok on an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain's request.

The former member of Bahrain's national soccer team, a critic of the government, was convicted of vandalising a police station and sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia.

He has denied wrongdoing.

John Didulica, chief executive of Professional Footballers Australia, said the Asian Football Confederation, whose head is a member of Bahrain's ruling family, should intervene for his freedom.

Mr Didulica said Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, as AFC president, was obliged to safeguard footballers' rights, but he had seen no evidence of action.

"That's a huge failure on their behalf and must be remedied," he told Reuters at a hotel in Dubai on Sunday while attending the Asian Cup.

Sheikh Salman could not be reached for comment.

When asked to respond, an AFC spokesman said: "The AFC is working with many stakeholders including FIFA, and as this work is ongoing we will make no further comment."

A Bahrain government spokesperson said there was no threat to AlAraibi's life and he could appeal if he returned.

Mr Didulica said failure to work towards AlAraibi's return to Australia, where he was granted asylum in 2017 after fleeing Bahrain three years earlier, could make Sheikh Salman's candidacy for AFC re-election "untenable".

AlAraibi was a vocal critic of Sheikh Salman, a cousin of Bahrain's king, when he contested the FIFA presidential election in 2015. During the campaign, which he lost to Gianni Infantino, Sheikh Salman was strongly criticised by some rights groups.

Sheikh Salman denies he was involved in investigating and prosecuting athletes active in Bahrain's 2011 protests.

Activists have called on authorities to "show humanity" to AlAraibi in the same way they did to an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled from her family to Thailand.

Human Rights Watch said AlAraibi was tortured by Bahraini authorities because of his brother's political activities during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011.

Bahraini authorities deny allegations of torture.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with her Thai counterpart Don Pramudwinai and Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Prajin Juntong during a visit to Bangkok last week, where she continued to lobby for AlAraibi's freedom.