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Thailand extends detention of Bahraini dissident

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
An undated photo shows Bahraini dissident Hakeem Alaraibi — who has refugee status in Australia — on his “bed” at the Suan Plu Immigration Detention Center in Thailand.

Thailand has extended the detention of a dissident Bahraini soccer player, who is wanted by Manama but who has been granted refugee status by Australia.

Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said on Tuesday that the remand of Hakeem Alaraibi had been extended for 12 days starting December 3 to give authorities time to examine purported documents submitted by Bahrain.

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 for a holiday with his wife.

Alaraibi, a former member of the Bahraini national soccer team, fled 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 criticized the regime in Manama for its violent suppression of the peaceful protests in the country.

In 2014, he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for involvement in an alleged 2014 attack on a police station, a charge he vehemently denies. In 2012, he had already been detained and tortured in prison.

He says he was targeted because he was a Shia and because his brother was a political activist in the Persian Gulf country.

The soccer player 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.

Surachate said that the Australian ambassador had told him Canberra wanted the soccer player to return to Australia.

But the Thai immigration official said, “If there is proof that the arrest warrant is invalid... then immigration will repatriate him to Australia.”

Speaking in an interview with AFP on Tuesday, Alaraibi said he believed Bahrain was “very angry” with him for interviews he gave in 2016 with mainstream media outlets about his treatment in custody.

“I’m not feeling well because I don’t know what’s going on,” he said, adding that he feared for his life if returned to Bahrain.

Also on Tuesday, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) wrote to FIFA President Gianni Infantino on Tuesday raising concerns about Alaraibi’s case, urging him to denounce the arrest and to call for his release.

Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch’s director for Asia, said the Interpol red notice should have been lifted because of Alaraibi’s status as a refugee.

“What we’re seeing develop is a Thai-sponsored tug of war between Australia and Bahrain in which Bangkok is conveniently forgetting that Hakeem is a refugee recognized by Canberra,” Adams said.

Thailand has no reason to send him back to Bahrain, “where he will face torture and imprisonment for daring to speak truth to power,” he added.

Thousands of anti-regime protesters have held demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the country in mid-February 2011. They are demanding that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.

Manama has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in its crackdown.

Scores of people have lost their lives and hundreds of others sustained injuries or got arrested in the Al Khalifah regime’s crackdown.

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