Bengaluru, February 4: Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi, who fled political upheaval in the Middle East nation and has refugee status in Australia, will spend at least two more months in prison in Thailand after a court set an extradition hearing for April.
The case has drawn appeals from Australia's prime minister and football's world governing body, FIFA, for Thailand to release Araibi and send him back to Australia, on the grounds that he could face torture in Bahrain, which sought the extradition.
Australian ambassador-designate to Thailand Allan McKinnon and diplomats from at least 13 countries greeted Araibi as he arrived at the courthouse in the Thai capital, wearing beige prison uniform, with shackles on his feet.
"Don't send me to Bahrain," said the footballer, who was arrested in Thailand in November while on his honeymoon and says that he faces persecution and torture if sent back to Bahrain.
The court gave the defence team until April 5 to submit documents opposing the extradition, and set April 22 for a preliminary hearing of witnesses and evidence, said defence lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman.
A Thai prosecutor submitted the Bahraini extradition request to the court last week, saying it showed Araibi had committed criminal wrongdoing and so should be extradited.
Supporters say that Araibi, as a recognised refugee, should be released and sent back to Australia instead.
"Thailand has really been used by Bahrain in this situation," said former Australian football captain Craig Foster, who has been campaigning around the world for Araibi's release, and was at the court..
Thailand's judiciary will decide the matter, the country's deputy foreign minister said.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and sport officials such as FIFA Secretary Generan Fatma Samoura, and Asian Football Confederation Vice President Praful Patel, have also urged Araibi's release.
Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 before being granted permanent residence in Australia, where he played for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale football club, was arrested on an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain's request.
Interpol later cancelled the notice.
Araibi was tortured by Bahraini authorities because of his brother's political activities during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, New York-based Human Rights Watch has said.
Bahraini authorities deny allegations of torture.
(With inputs from Agencies)