2018: Bahrain Chases Australian Refugee Ex-Bahrain Footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi to Thailand
2019-01-31 - 7:49 م
Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): The former Bahrain football player Hakeem Al-Araibi is still being held in a Thai prison, pending a final court decision on his extradition to Manama, although he had entered Thailand as a refugee in Australia.
Al-Araibi has become at risk of deportation to Bahrain, about five years after his departure fleeing judicial verdicts against him over politically-motivated charges, and after his story of arrest and torture became well-known on a large scale in the international media. The Thai authorities arrested Al-Araibi upon his arrival at the airport on November 27, 2018 under an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol at the request of Bahrain.
Al-Araibi has been known his strong stances criticizing Bahrain's Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa for running for the presidency of FIFA in the 2016 elections. The Bahraini authorities have officially acknowledged their pursuit of Al-Araibi and said they are following his case with the Thai authorities and that he is wanted over security-related cases. A statement issued by a Thai immigration official said that Bahrain knew of Hakeem Al-Araibi's travel and thus coordinated with the Thai authorities in advance to arrest him immediately upon his arrival.
News agencies and major newspapers reported the detention of Al-Araibi, who wanted to enjoy his time on a vacation with his wife in Thailand, and many calls for his release, especially in Australia, were made.
Since the crisis broke out, Australian officials have been deeply invested in the case. The Australian foreign minister said she raised the issue of Al-Araibi's detention with Thai officials, and later called on her Thai counterpart to return Al-Araibi to Australia immediately, and also sent officials to visit Al-Araibi in prison.
FIFA also called on Thailand to send Al-Araibi back to Australia in his capacity as a professional player in an Australian football club and a former international player in the Bahrain national team.
After being transferred to an unknown destination, information emerged that Thai authorities had decided to detain Hakeem for 12 days, awaiting the court's decision to either deport or release him. Under pressure, Thailand later issued an official statement saying the judiciary was considering extraditing Hakeem Al-Araibi to Bahrain.
Days later, news agencies reported that a Thai court had decided to extend the detention of the Bahraini refugee for 60 days, pending the completion of his extradition request by Bahrain.
For her part, Hakeem Al-Araibi's attorney confirmed that he requested the approval of the Australian Immigration Ministry before going to Thailand, and said in a statement that she believes he has a good chance not to return to his country for good evidence of the risks that he could be exposed to. Al-Araibi's lawyer later filed an urgent request to the Australian Department of Home Affairs to grant him citizenship, making it politically difficult for Thailand to extradite him to Bahrain.
Hakeem Al-Araibi declared a hunger strike at a Thai detention center during his first period of detention. When he was seen in court, he told reporters that it was Australia that had prevented his deportation so far. "Please stop them... If I am deported to Bahrain, do not believe my confessions that you will hear. I know what will happen to me, and I know I will be tortured until I confess to things I never did."
Al-Araibi's arrest and attempted extradition were widely echoed in the football, political and human rights circles. Australia's Pascoe Vale F.C., for which Al-Araibi plays, has made efforts to pressure Thai authorities to return him to Australia, and expressed its support for him. For his part, retired football player Craig Foster challenged AFC President Salman bin Ibrahim to either back Hakeem Al-Araibi or resign.
Protests and sit-ins were held in solidarity with Al-Araibi, some of which took place in front of the Thai embassy in Australia, while a member of the House of Lords urged the British ambassador in Thailand to intervene to ensure the safe return of Hakeem to Australia.
The former Thai foreign minister said there was no reason to detain Hakeem Al-Araibi, while Human Rights Watch called on Thailand not to extradite him to Bahrain. Amnesty also urged its followers to appeal to the Thai authorities to stop his deportation. The two organizations, along with Professional Footballers Australia, held a press conference in Melbourne, calling on the Australian government, FIFA and the AFC to exert greater pressure in order to prevent the extradition of Al-Araibi to Bahrain, as other human rights organizations urged the United Nations to intervene.
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