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Thailand officially receives Bahrain's request to extradite detained soccer player

Thailand officially receives Bahrain's request to extradite detained soccer player

Thailand officially received a request from Bahrain to extradite a detained soccer player who has refugee status in Australia. Bahrain's request for the extradition of Hakeem al-Araibi was received Monday and forwarded to prosecutors for deliberation, foreign ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said Tuesday. The Bahraini national team player says he fled his home country due to political repression.

Bahrain wants him returned to serve a prison sentence for a charge he denies. Al-Araibi was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on a holiday, and a court ruled in December he could be held for 60 days pending the completion of an extradition request by Bahrain. The attorney general is expected to decide al-Araibi's case within a week, said Chatchom Akapin, director general for the attorney general's international affairs department. Chatchom said Thailand would not extradite al-Araibi "if the sought extradition is political." He said "if it is, then the request must be denied."

Human rights groups, soccer governing bodies and activists have made an international push for Thailand to release al-Araibi, 25, who plays for the semi-professional soccer club Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne. Former Australia captain Craig Foster said Monday at FIFA headquarters that Bahrain's formal request made al-Araibi's plight an emergency. "We want it to be resolved this week, before Friday," Foster said after meeting with FIFA secretary Fatma Samoura. Al-Araibi has alleged he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten while he was held in Bahrain in 2012. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active.

Bahrain has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and has a reputation for harsh repression since its failed "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Hakeem also suspects that he is being sought by Bahrain because of critical comments he has made about Bahraini royal family member Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, who is also the president of the Asian Football Confederation. Human rights groups believe al-Araibi risks being tortured if sent back to Bahrain.

(With inputs from agencies.)

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