Australian government must act to stop deportation of Bahraini refugee

A protest in favour of Hakeem Al-Araibi outside the Thai Consulate in Melbourne on December 4

Bahraini refugee Hakeem Al-Araibi has been held in detention in Thailand since November 27, facing the terrifying prospect of deportation to the country where he was tortured.

Al-Araibi fled to Australia in 2014 and was accepted as a refugee. In November, he travelled on UN travel documents to Thailand for a short holiday with his wife. When he arrived at Bangkok airport, Al-Araibi was arrested under an Interpoll “Red Notice” (an international arrest warrant) issued by the Bahrain government.

Interpol is not meant to issue red notices for refugees, so this red notice should never have been issued for Al-Araibi. The Interpol system of red notices has been widely discredited, because countries with terrible human rights records use them against political dissidents.

Interpol realised that Al-Araibi was a refugee on December 3 and withdrew the notice. Al-Araibi should have been released on December 11, but the Thai authorities decided to extend his detention for 60 more days to prepare for his extradition to Bahrain.

The international outcry over the detention and possible deportation of Al-Araibi has drawn attention to the discredited system of Red Notices, the threat to refugees, and the role of the Australian government in the whole affair.

The Australian government initially told the Thai authorities they had no responsibility for Al-Araibi because he was not an Australian citizen. The Australian officials should have said the Australian government had a responsibility to defend Al-Araibi because he had been granted refugee status due to political persecution. That might have resolved the situation.

Instead, the Australian government has been shamed by the international outcry into taking a stronger position in support of Al-Araibi. The Bahraini diaspora, the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all campaigned strongly for the release of Al-Araibi and for him to have the right to return to Australia.

Since then, the football community has joined the campaign. Al-Araibi played soccer for the Bahrain national team and in Australia he plays for the Pascoe Vale Football Club. Former Socceroo and current SBS commentator Craig Foster has been outspoken in calling for Al-Araibi to be returned to Australia. Other senior soccer players to speak out in support of Al-Araibi are former Socceroo Craig Moore and ex-captain Paul Wade. FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and the Football Federation Australia (FFA) are also supporting the campaign.

However, the Asian Football Confederation president, Bahraini royal Sheik Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, has been silent. Craig Foster has called on him to support Al-Araibi or resign.

The international pressure and local community pressure has forced the Australian government to reveal its own shady role in the detention of Al-Araibi.

A statement from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the detention of Al-Araibi had been carried out in response to the red notice alert received from the Interpol National Central Bureau of Australia as well as the formal request from the Bahraini government for Al-Araibi’s extradition.

The question that needs to be asked is on whose authority did the Australian Interpol office issue a red alert, especially when this is in breach of Interpol’s protocols that such notices cannot be used against refugees? Secondly, why didn’t the Australian authorities intervene immediately after Al-Araibi’s arrest to tell the Thai authorities that Al-Araibi is a refugee?

Al-Araibi’s lawyers have lodged a request for ministerial intervention to grant citizenship to Al-Araibi.

Fatima Yazbek of the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights called on the Australian government, especially the Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton, to grant Al-Araibi Australian citizenship to save him from the imminent danger he will face if deported to Bahrain.

Yazbec said: “Bahraini prisons lack the minimum standards of prisoners’ rights, and the political prisoners are suffering from miserable conditions and lack of basic rights.

“The repression against the opponents of the Gulf States, especially following the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the death penalties issued against Saudi human rights activists, gives an indication of what is awaiting Hakeem Al-Araibi in the Bahraini prisons.

“We call on all the sports and football community to demand granting Hakeem the Australian citizenship,” she added.

Al-Ariabi has good reason to be terrified at the prospect of being sent to Bahrain. He was arrested and tortured by the Bahraini authorities, allegedly due to the political activities of his brother. After Al-Araibi fled the country, the Bahraini authorities sentenced him for vandalising a police station. Al-Araibi was known to be playing football at the time the authorities claim he was vandalising the police station.

According to Human Rights Watch, Bahrain’s human rights situation continued to worsen in 2017: “Authorities shut down the country’s only independent newspaper and the leading secular-left opposition political society. The country’s preeminent human rights defender remained in prison on speech charges. The government, ending a de facto moratorium on use of the death penalty, executed three people in January following unfair trials, despite their alleging that they had been tortured and their confessions coerced.”

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