Wife of detained refugee soccer player appeals to Thai PM

FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, file photo, prison guards escort Bahraini football player Hakeem al-Araibi from a court in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand officially received a request from Bahrain to extradite a detained soccer player who has refugee status in Australia. The foreign ministry says the request for extraditing Hakeem al-Araibi has been forwarded to prosecutors for deliberation. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe, File)

BANGKOK — A campaign by Australia, human rights groups and sports organizations to stop Thailand from extraditing to Bahrain a detained soccer player who has refugee status in Australia has gotten personal, with an open letter from his wife delivered to the Thai prime minister.

The letter that attorney Nadthasiri Bergman handed over Wednesday at Government House implores Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to free Hakeem al-Araibi because of his probable persecution in his homeland. Bahrain wants Al-Araibi returned to serve a prison sentence after he was convicted in absentia of arson of a police station, a charge he denies.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed Thursday that Prayuth had not responded to his own earlier plea for al-Araibi to be freed.

Al-Araibi used to play for the Bahraini national team and now plays for a semi-professional club in Australia. He was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November and a court ruled in December he could be held for 60 days. Thai officials said earlier this week the attorney general's office is expected to decide within a week whether to proceed with the extradition case.

The letter from his wife, whose name was withheld for privacy reasons, said she is "anxiously waiting for a glimpse of hope to have my husband return home" to Australia.

"My husband and I had traveled to Thailand because we thought it would be the perfect country to have our honeymoon in. We traveled together excited to arrive in Thailand, only to be met with imprisonment, and the threat for my husband to be sent back to Bahrain where his life will be in danger," his wife wrote.

Al-Araibi has said 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.

"I am frightened for my husband's life and our future. His future lies in your hands," his wife wrote. "Please help my husband come home."

Morrison said during a Radio 2GB interview he did not believe al-Araibi would be extradited this week and that he and others would continue to lobby Thailand and Bahrain on al-Araibi's behalf.

"We are pushing on every door here and so we will continue to do that respectfully but very determinedly," Morrison said. He said they were focused on getting al-Araibi home and using every resource to press his case.

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Associated Press Writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

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