'We are very concerned': Payne pressures Thailand over refugee footballer’s detention

10 January 2019 15:32 Australia Desk

Australia's foreign minister has met with her Thai counterpart to discuss the ongoing detention of a Melbourne-based refugee and footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has reiterated Australia's deep concerns over Thailand's detention of a Melbourne-based refugee footballer in a meeting with senior Thai government figures.

Senator Payne met with her Thai counterpart Don Pramudwinai and deputy prime minister and justice minister Prajin Juntong on Thursday in Bangkok, where she again raised Hakeem Al-Araibi's case.

Al-Araibi has been held in Thailand since November when he was arrested over an Interpol Red Notice warrant issued by his native Bahrain while on holiday.

"The Thai government is most certainly aware of the importance of this matter to Australia," Senator Payne told reporters in Bangkok on Thursday.

She said the semi-professional soccer player had been visited a number of times by Australian officials, with legal proceedings ongoing.

"We are very concerned about his detention, very concerned about any potential for return of Mr Al-Araibi to Bahrain," Senator Payne said.

"I have reiterated those concerns to both ministers."

Australia has been urged to apply maximum pressure to the Thai government in lobbying for Al-Araibi''s release.

Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster said the "very brave" young man should be returned to Australia.

"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," he told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.

FIFA has reaffirmed its desire for the Bahraini to be returned to Australia rather than extradited to his former homeland.

"FIFA is therefore calling on all the relevant authorities (in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia) to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr Hakeem Al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia where he can resume his career as a professional footballer," world soccer's powerful governing body said in a statement.

Al-Araibi was on his first overseas trip with his wife since fleeing Bahrain to Australia in 2014 and being granted refugee status in November 2017.

He was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalising a Bahraini police station, which he denies.

A former member of the Bahrain national football team, Al-Araibi played in the National Premier Leagues Victoria for semi-professional Pascoe Vale this year.

Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong commended the minister for publicly advocating for the 25-year-old.

"It's been heartening to see the way the football community has come together and united in support of him.

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