Will FIFA save Hakeem al-Araibi? Bahraini footballer fears being tortured and killed

Hakeem al-Araibi
Hakeem al-Araibi YouTube grab

"I didn't do anything in Bahrain, I didn't do anything in Thailand, I didn't do anything in Australia. How can they keep me locked up like this? Please help me, please. In Bahrain there are no human rights and no safety for people like me," Guardian quotes the cries of a helpless footballer captured in prison.

Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has been held in a prison in Thailand for nearly two months and finally, FIFA has decided to intervene by asking the Thai government for his immediate release.

Hakeem is a 25-year-old footballer who plays for Melbourne football club Pascoe Vale. He was a Bahraini national when he fled the country in 2014 after being sentenced to 10 years in prison on vandalism charges.

He denied the charges and has been granted refugee status in Australia where he has been playing football for 3 years. He was on his honeymoon in Thailand on November 27 when authorities detained him at the Bangkok airport on the basis of an Interpol red notice. Hakeem fears that if he is deported to Bahrain, they might torture him and even kill him.

In an interview with the Guardian, Hakeem said his fear came from a place of painful personal experience back home when he was tortured for allegedly vandalising a police station.

"It was hell for me," he said, describing prison. "For the first two days they blindfolded me and beat me in the face and legs, telling me I would never play football again. Five hours' straight many police beat me. They poured cold water over my face and back. They were not even trying to get a confession out of me and whenever I asked them: 'What did I do?' they would just scream 'shut up' and beat me more."

Hakeem says the accusations were "entirely false" and he was targeted because his brother supported the pro-democracy Arab Spring protests along with the fact that he is a Shia Muslim.

"Bahrain wants me back to punish me because I talked to the media in 2016 about the terrible human rights and about how Sheikh Salman is a very bad man who discriminates against Shia Muslims," Hakeem said. "I am so scared of being sent back to Bahrain, so scared because 100% they will arrest me, they will torture me again, possibly they will kill me."

For close to two months bodies like FIFA and AFC kept silent in the matter and received immense criticism for not intervening.

Finally, FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura has contacted the Thai prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, seeking a speedy resolution to the case. According to the BBC, here's what the letter said.

"This situation should not have arisen, in particular, since Mr Al-Araibi now lives, works and plays as a professional footballer in Australia, where he has been accorded refugee status."

"As stated publicly on several occasions, Fifa is respectfully urging the authorities of the Kingdom of Thailand to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr Al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia at the earliest possible moment, in accordance with the relevant international standards."

"We would like to kindly ask for a meeting with a high-level representative of your government at the earliest possible convenience."

"The objective of the meeting would be to discuss the situation of Mr Al-Araibi and receive first-hand information on the status of the proceedings. The meeting would be joined by representatives from Fifa and FlFPro, the global union of professional football players."

This article was first published on January 25, 2019