Bahrain insists on extradition of footballer from Thailand

Dubai (AFP) –


Bahrain insisted Monday on the extradition of a footballer with refugee status who has been detained in Thailand for nearly two months over his alleged role in protests in the Gulf state.

"(Hakeem) Alaraibi was arrested in Thailand and proceedings to extradite him to Bahrain are in process so that he can serve his sentence," a government statement said.

Alaraibi, 25, who played for Bahrain's national youth team, fled his homeland and was granted asylum in Australia where he plays semi-professionally in Melbourne.

He was detained entering Thailand for a vacation. Interpol has faced criticism for initially issuing the warrant for his arrest, which it later withdrew.

Bahraini authorities have sentenced Alaraibi to 10 years in prison for allegedly helping protesters burn down a police station during demonstrations that swept the Gulf state in 2012.

"He had all the rights and opportunities to defend himself in the criminal case, in which some of the suspects with him were acquitted by the court," Bahrain's interior minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa said in the government statement.

He added that Alaraibi may appeal the verdict if he is returned to Bahrain.

The footballer denies the charges against him, insisting he was playing in a match at the time of the incident for which he was found guilty.

The Australian government, human rights groups, world football's governing body FIFA and the International Olympic Committee have all called for Alaraibi's release.

A tiny Gulf archipelago, allied with the US and located between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, the kingdom of Bahrain has been hit by waves of unrest since 2011, when security forces crushed Shiite-led protests demanding an elected prime minister.