Wife of detained refugee soccer player appeals to Thai PM

BANGKOK (AP) – A campaign by Australia, human rights groups and sports organisations to stop Thailand from extraditing to Bahrain a detained soccer player who has refugee status in Australia has gotten personal, with an open letter from his wife delivered to the Thai Prime Minister.

The letter that attorney Nadthasiri Bergman handed over on Wednesday at Government House implores Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to free Hakeem al-Araibi because of his probable persecution in his homeland.

Bahrain wants Al-Araibi returned to serve a prison sentence after he was convicted in absentia of arson of a police station, a charge he denies.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed yesterday that Prayuth had not responded to his own earlier plea for al-Araibi to be freed.

Al-Araibi used to play for the Bahraini national team and now plays for a semi-professional club in Australia.

He was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November and a court ruled in December he could be held for 60 days.

Thai officials said earlier this week the attorney general’s office is expected to decide within a week whether to proceed with the extradition case.

The letter from his wife, whose name was withheld for privacy reasons, said she is “anxiously waiting for a glimpse of hope to have my husband return home” to Australia. “My husband and I had travelled to Thailand because we thought it would be the perfect country to have our honeymoon in. We travelled together excited to arrive in Thailand, only to be met with imprisonment, and the threat for my husband to be sent back to Bahrain where his life will be in danger,” his wife wrote.

Bahraini football player Hakeem al-Araibi. – AP