Sport

GV Suns reach out to Thai Prime Minister in attempt to help former player

By Tyler Maher

A former Goulburn Valley Suns player has made national headlines in the past week as he pleads for a return to Australia after being detained in Thailand.

Hakeem AlAraibi — who played for the Suns in the 2016 National Premier League Two season — was detained at Bangkok Airport last month after setting out on a holiday with his wife.

AlAraibi was taken into custody due to an Interpol Red Notice his country of birth Bahrain issued, but even after the notice was lifted, Thai authorities have refused to free him.

Suns president Michael Crisera described AlAraibi, 25, as a man with outstanding moral character.

‘‘Hakeem was the ultimate professional during his time at the GV Suns,’’ Crisera said in a club statement.

‘‘He was very polite, punctual and of fantastic moral character.

‘‘All impressions of Hakeem were always positive. He was hardworking, focused on excellence and exhibited great leadership traits.

‘‘He had a impressive year for the GV Suns on the pitch and was respected by all off the pitch.

‘‘(He was) not only a fantastic player, but was also very humble for the past traumas he had experienced.

‘‘The club found Hakeem to be dependable, responsible, honest and courteous, and had a great deal of respect for him. It was fantastic to see him move up a division at the conclusion of the 2016 NPL2 season.’’

Bahrain has attempted to extradite AlAraibi, but after fleeing the nation in 2014 he has since gained refugee status in Australia and is a permanent resident — meaning for Thailand to do so would be to violate his rights under international human rights law.

‘‘Australia is concerned by the ongoing detention of Mr Hakeem Ali AlAraibi and calls for his immediate return to Australia,’’ Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in a statement on Sunday.

‘‘Mr AlAraibi was granted permanent residency by the Australian Government in 2017 in recognition of his status as a refugee.

‘‘Australia has made, and will continue to make, high-level diplomatic representations seeking Mr AlAraibi’s safe return.

‘‘Australia welcomes the many messages of support and concern that have been expressed for Mr AlAraibi, including from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, other governments, FIFA and Mr AlAraibi’s local community in Melbourne.’’

AlAraibi, who was a member of Bahrain’s national team at one stage, fears he will be tortured if returned to Bahrain due to previously criticising the country’s Royal family.

In a post to his Facebook profile on December 7, AlAraibi voiced these fears — asking his friends, family and wider members of the Australian community to not forget him if he is deported.

‘‘This might be my last message. I still don’t know whether I will be deported to Bahrain tomorrow,’’ the post said.

‘‘I appeal to the United Nations, individual states, FIFA, footballers, and all people, as my fate is now in danger and my future will soon be over.

‘‘If I am deported to Bahrain, don’t forget me and if once I’m there you hear me saying things, don’t believe me. I know what will happen to me and I know I will be tortured to confess things that I have never done.

‘‘Please continue your fight to save me.’’

The GV Suns family will certainly continue to be loud in their support of one of their own.

‘‘The GV Suns, along with a great number of other NPL clubs have written to the Thai prime minister, seeking his support for the immediate and safe return of Hakeem to Australia and hope that with this, Hakeem’s basic human rights are protected,’’ Crisera said.

‘‘Should Hakeem be extradited to Bahrain, he faces a real risk of imprisonment and possible torture.

‘‘With the support of the Victorian football community, Hakeem has been able to build a new life for himself in Australia. He contributes strongly to our football community, and was a highly valued member of our club in 2016.’’