The football prisoner

Former Bahrain international Haakem al-Araibi is trapped in a detention cell in Bangkok, wanted back in is home country on trumped-up charges. Neither FIFA president Gianni Infantino or his vice president Sheikh Salman from Bahrain, who al-Araibi has said is complicit in his plight, have spoken out in defence of him.

By James Montague

It has been a good Asian Cup for Bahrain so far. The tiny Middle Eastern kingdom has again punched above its weight to reach the group stage of Asia's premier international competition, the continent's equivalent of the European Championship being held right now in the United Arab Emirates. After a creditable draw with the hosts in the opening game, and after losing narrowly to Thailand, Bahrain scored an injury time penalty to send them through at India's expense, a country of 1.4 million people dumping out a team from a country of 1.4 billion. On January 22nd they will play one of the favourites, South Korea, in their round of 16 knockout match at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai. But there will be one player, at least, who in another life would have been preparing for the biggest match of his career. Instead, Hakeem al-Araibi, a political refugee and former defender for the Bahrain national team, is being held in a detention cell in Thailand, awaiting deportation for a crime it is unlikely he could have committed.

Violence and torture
In 2011, as the Arab Spring swept through the Middle East, Bahrain experienced its own series of protests. In February that year tens of thousands of people joined at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama to protest for greater political freedoms. They were put down violently and in the aftermath dozens of footballers, sports men and women were targeted by the Bahraini authorities for exercising the...

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