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Thailand warned against deporting dissident footballer to Bahrain

This private photo provided by Bahraini footballer and political activist Hakeem al-Araibi shows him while in detention at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, Thailand.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Thailand to refrain from deporting a dissident footballer to Bahrain where he might face prosecution for expressing his anti-government views.

The New York-based rights group warned in a statement on Saturday that Thailand should protect Hakeem al-Araibi, a refugee in Australia who was arrested in Bangkok last month, adding that deporting the footballer to his home country of Bahrain would further worsen Thailand’s records in neglecting the rights of refugees.

“Handing him [Araibi] over to Bahrain would be a heartless act that blatantly violates Thailand's obligations to protect refugees and opens Bangkok up to a chorus of international criticism,” said Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, adding that the footballer, wanted in his country for alleged terrorism offences, should be released immediately.

Hakeem al-Araibi is seen in this file photo during a football match.

Araibi, a former member of the Bahraini national football team, escaped the Persian Gulf country in 2014 in the midst of a massive crackdown on dissent. The 25-year-old has obtained refugee status in Australia and has continued to criticize the regime in Manama for its violent suppression of the peaceful democracy protests in the country. He has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for involvement in a 2014 attack on a police station, a charge he vehemently denies.

The footballer is also a major critic of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president, Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa, who is a cousin of the Bahraini king. His arrest comes amid a massive campaign by Salman to extend his term as AFC president. 

Thai authorities used an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain's request to arrest Araibi on November 27 when he arrived in Bangkok airport from Melbourne.

HRW said if Araibi is sent back to Bahrain, he might face “grave dangers” there and Thai immigration authorities were supposed to ensure that the activist is not put in harm's way.

The organization said although Thailand does not recognize refugees, and has previously acted poorly on the case of Chinese and Pakistani asylum seekers, it was legally bound to respect the “non-refoulement” principle which, under international law, bans any extradition to a country that might result in torture or other human rights violations against the extradited person.

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