Australia urges Thailand to release detained refugee footballer

The Australian government has called for an Australian-based refugee footballer to be released from detention in Thailand immediately.

Hakeem al-Araibi was detained in Bangkok in November on an Interpol warrant issued at the request of Bahrain.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Sunday she had raised the matter with her Thai counterpart, Don Pramudwinai, requesting that 25-year-old Al-Araibi be allowed to fly back to Melbourne as soon as possible.

He plays for a team in the Victoria State league.

"Australia is concerned by the ongoing detention of Mr. Hakeem Ali al-Araibi and calls for his immediate return to Australia," Payne said. "He was granted permanent residency by the Australian government in 2017 in recognition of his status as a refugee.

"Returning Mr. Al-Araibi to Bahrain, from where he fled, would contravene his rights under international human rights law."

On Friday, Al-Araibi was arrested in Bangkok ahead of a court ruling on whether he will be extradited to Bahrain, the homeland he fled four years ago.

Immigration Police chief Major General Surachate Hakparn said Al-Araibi, detained upon entry at Bangkok airport on Nov. 27, was being held legally following a request from Bahrain's government. He had travelled to Thailand on holiday with his wife.

"The Australian consul got to visit him already," Surachate said. "We have provided nice halal meals for him three times a day. We are enforcing the law to international standards."

Al-Araibi has told the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, which is lobbying for his release, that he fears he will be tortured if sent back to Bahrain.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International has said he is in serious danger of torture or other ill-treatment.

Surachate said the issue would be dealt with by a Thai court. "For that, we need to wait for the court verdict. The law says he has the right to appeal the verdict. It's up to the court's consideration," he said, adding that Al-Araibi would be brought before a court next Tuesday.

Al-Araibi's detention has also drawn concern from FIFA. In 2014, he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalising a police station, a charge he denies.

He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shia faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain.

Bahrain has a Shia majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and has a reputation for harsh repression since its failed "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011.