Jailed refugee footballer urges support

Bahraini football player Hakeem al-Araibi lived in Australia after being granted refugee status.
Bahraini football player Hakeem al-Araibi lived in Australia after being granted refugee status.

Detained refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has asked supporters to continue fighting for his release, as he grows increasingly anxious over a looming court hearing he fears will send him back to Bahrain.

Al-Araibi said from the Bangkok Remand Prison: "Why am I here? Why has Bahrain followed me? It's 2019, it's not 100 years ago, we have human rights now. Please keep fighting for me, please do everything you can."

The footballer, who lived in Australia after being granted refugee status, has been held by Thai authorities since November 27 when he arrived in Bangkok for a honeymoon with his wife.

Bahrain has until February 8 to lodge a formal request for his extradition for allegedly vandalising a police station during the Arab Spring in 2012. Al-Araibi, 25, was sentenced to 10 years' jail in absentia.

He denies the charges and claims he faces torture or death if he is returned to Bahrain by the Thai courts. "I'm scared if I go back to Bahrain, I know what they will do to me," al-Araibi said.

His lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman told AAP on Monday they had not received any legal papers relating to the extradition. But she added that a request could be made to extend the footballer's detention for another 30 days.

Evan Jones from the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, who visited al-Araibi in prison on Monday to brief him on the growing international groundswell of support for his cause, said the footballer was still anxious and afraid.

Despite the growing calls for his release, the footballer has only scant understanding of the campaign going on outside the prison.

His main source of information on his case is from Australian Embassy staff, who have longer access visits than the usual 15 minutes per day, and his lawyer.

"He has no access to a newspaper, television of telephone," Jones said.

He said al-Araibi desperately wanted to hear from his wife who has returned to Australia.

But an email she sent him in Arabic did not make it through the prison's computer system.

"You can tell he's really craving information from his wife, he really wants to hear from her," he said, adding he would hand deliver her letter on his next visit.

Jones said al-Araibi still looked "healthy and strong" and had enough money in his prison account to buy food. But the footballer shares a small cell with 50 other inmates, who sleep side by side. "He's really worried about getting sick, the conditions aren't good in there," Jones said.

Al-Araibi and many of his supporters believe he has been targeted by Bahrain for speaking out against Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), who refused to help the footballer.

Jones said al-Araibi seemed "a bit defeated" by Bahrain's legal pursuit of him.

"He's happy there's support and that everybody is rallying around him, but he thinks it might not be enough to stop the process and the will of Bahrain to get him back".

Former Socceroo Craig Foster, who has galvanised support for al-Araibi around the world, will hold a press conference in Zurich today after meeting with FIFA general-secretary Fatma Samoura and World Players' Association head Brendan Schwab.

Foster presented FIFA with a petition with 50,000 signatures and supporting documents demanding the sport's governing body help secure al-Araibi's immediate release.

Australian Associated Press