‘Inside I’m broken’: Melbourne refugee pleads for release from Bangkok prison

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‘Inside I’m broken’: Melbourne refugee pleads for release from Bangkok prison

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Updated

January 10, 2019 17:01:58

Inside a small, concrete cell in Thailand, Hakeem AlAraibi finds himself surrounded by killers and “violent” offenders.

Key points:

  • Bahrain requested Hakeem Alaraibi be detained after convicting him of vandalising a police station
  • Foreign Minister Marisa Payne has vowed to advocate for his safe return to Australia
  • Human rights groups, joined by former Socceroo Craig Foster, held a demonstration calling for his release

It’s a far cry from the soccer fields of Melbourne he’s accustomed to.

“I’m trying to be brave,” he told the ABC.

“But inside I’m broken.”

The Melbourne-based refugee and elite soccer player was detained last year when he stepped off a plane in Bangkok for a holiday with his wife, on the request of Bahrain, which has convicted him in absentee of vandalising a police station.

Mr AlAraibi denies the accusation, saying he was playing in a televised soccer match at the time of the incident and he is being persecuted for criticising a relative of the Bahrain royal family.

In December, a Thai court ordered Mr AlAraibi be detained in a remand prison for up to 60 days while Bahrain makes its case for his extradition.

It is where he currently remains.

Mr AlAraibi, who was recognised as a refugee and granted permanent resident in Australia in 2017, said he is made to sleep in a cell with 50 other prisoners.

“Some of them are in here for killing people. Violent things,” he said sadly.

“We sleep in a tiny space, you can’t even roll over it’s so small. And so hot.

“We sleep just on the concrete floor.”

As his time inside mounts, the 25-year-old is asking Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who is currently in Thailand, to intervene.

“I ask the Australian Government, please don’t forget me,” he said.

“Please bring me home to my wife.”

‘He just wants to come back to Australia’

Australian embassy officials in Bangkok have been visiting him once a week, Mr AlAraibi said, and ahead of her prearranged visit to Thailand, Ms Payne vowed to advocate for his safe return.

If the Australian Government approves his citizenship application, Mr AlAraibi hopes it will help him get out of prison.

In the meantime, friends fear the longer Mr AlAraibi is detained, the more his condition will deteriorate.

“He didn’t look very good even though he’s positive … he just wants to come back to Australia,” Gonzalo Abascal, his Pascoe Vale teammate, who spoke to the 25-year-old from prison, said.

“He told me he is not having a very nice time in there, but he can wait, he can be strong.

“The main thing he told me is he doesn’t want to go to Bahrain, because he knows what can happen to him there.”

‘Disgraceful’ silence from Asian Football Confederation

Human rights groups today held a demonstration in front of the Sydney Opera House, calling for his release.

Former Socceroo Craig Foster, who spoke on behalf of the Australian football community, said the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) was not doing enough to support Mr AlAraibi.

Mr Foster said AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, himself a Bahrain national, was “known to Hakeem” and had conflict with the player in the past.

“Sheikh Salman is obligated to support Hakeem,” he told the gathering.

“He is obligated to do everything in his power to advocate, both privately and publicly, and to use the immense leverage football has with the Bahrain Government … also with the Thai Government to release Hakeem.

“As yet, the silence of the Asian Football Confederation is not just confounding, it’s absolutely disgraceful under our human rights obligations within the entire football community.”

Human rights advocates hope Mr AlAraibi’s cause will be aided by the increased scrutiny on Thailand due to the ongoing case of Saudi teenager Rahaf Alqunun.

“The world’s attention really made the difference in Rahaf’s case,” Elaine Pearson from Human Rights Watch said.

“We saw how social media could be used to really mobilise and change the mind of the Thai Government.”

Topics:

law-crime-and-justice,

prisons-and-punishment,

refugees,

community-and-society,

immigration,

world-politics,

thailand

First posted

January 10, 2019 16:46:08

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