The story of Hakeem Al-Araibi, an Australian refugee who was on a honeymoon with his wife in Thailand, then captured by Interpol and detained in Bangkok since November is as unique as it is baffling.
Hakeem’s previous conviction relates to vandalising and firebombing a police station, which he denies, saying he was participating in a televised football match at the time.
After fleeing Bahrain, where he was jailed and allegedly tortured due to those charges, he was granted political asylum in Australia and was a permanent resident awaiting full Australian citizenship.
One of the protesters in Sydney last week was Fox Sports commentator Simon Hill, who was wearing Al-Araibi's number five shirt in solidarity.
Five years ago when Hakeem arrived in Australia, Hill interviewed the Bahrainian footballer, who at the time was very critical of Sheikh Salman, the current President of the Asian Football Confederation and member of the House of Khalifa, the Royal Family of Bahrain.
“As per journalist practice I tried to get in touch with Sheikh Salman’s people for comment and we were immediately hit with a legal writ from his lawyers in London,” he told FTBL.
“So the story never ran. But I have followed his progress. I wanted to come out to show my support and to get that story out there.
“That important and powerful people with money behind them can stop the free press from holding powerful people to account by threats and that’s wrong.
Hill added: “Hakeem needs to be freed because this is wrong on a very basic human level, it’s wrong what happened and he should be back with his family in Melbourne and playing for Pascoe Vale.”
One of the first people Hakeem spoke to when he came to Australia and when he was arrested in Thailand was Ghassan Khamis, who works for the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.
“When he was arrested in Bangkok I personally received a call from him,” he told FTBL
“I speak the same language as Hakeem and he told me, ‘I went from Melbourne to Thailand to enjoy my honeymoon and I’ve been arrested. I was told that my name is on an Interpol red notice list, please help me.
"They want to send me back to Bahrain. I have done nothing wrong in Bahrain but if I go back I will be tortured again and I will be sentenced to 12 years in jail.”
Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement yesterday blaming Australia for Hakeem Al-Alraibi's extradition, reiterating that Australian Interpol had originally alerted Thai authorities to Hakeem's red notice.
"We would not have become involved in the issue had we not received the red notice alert from Australian Interpol," Thailand's statement read.
"It took several days after the arrival of Mr. Hakeem before the Australian authorities informed us that the red notice had been cancelled. By that time, legal proceedings in Thailand regarding Mr. Hakeem had already started and could not be reversed."
Khamis rejected the claim that Thailand were unable to reverse the process, instead maintaining that the Thai government's role in extraditing Hakeem to Bahrain was financially motivated.
“We believe the Thai government have economic interests in Bahrain and they don’t want to lose them,” he said.
“In 2019, Thailand will launch Thai-mart which is the biggest economic centre in Bahrain and the import and exports between Bahrain and Thailand are expected to be worth around US$400m annually.
"Thailand don’t want to upset Bahrain and lose their investment.”