#SaveHakeem: Stop the deportation of a Bahraini refugee

Hakeem Al-Araibi in a Thai prison.

Bahraini refugee Hakeem Al-Araibi has been held in detention in Thailand since last November 27. He faces the terrifying prospect of being deported to the country where he was tortured.

Al-Araibi, a semi-professional footballer and former member of the Bahraini national football team, was on his honeymoon and had just landed in Thailand. Australian authorities alerted Thai authorities, whereupon he was arrested. Bahrain is demanding his extradition.

Yahya Alhadid, a spokesperson for the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, said if Al-Araibi is extradited back to Bahrain he will face “continuous electric shocks, because he dared to criticise a member of the Royal family”.

Alhadid said that another detainee, athlete Hamad Al-Fahed, had his sentence changed from 15 years’ jail to life after he spoke out about the torture he was subjected to, which included electric shocks.

Al-Araibi fled to Australia in 2014 and was accepted as a refugee. He clearly felt protected enough to fly to Thailand with his wife. He was detained after Australia issued an Interpol Red Notice (or arrest warrant).

Interpol withdrew its arrest warrant on December 3 when it found that Al-Araibi was a refugee. This should have led to his release, but the Thai authorities extended his detention for 60 days to prepare his extradition to Bahrain. Al-Araibi was shifted from detention to a jail, where his phone was taken and he was only allowed to see his lawyers and consular officials.

The Australian authorities should never have issued a Red Notice. The government should have immediately told the Thai authorities that Al-Araibi was a refugee under its protection. It did not: it told the Thai authorities that it had no responsibility because Al-Araibi was not a citizen.

The Australian government was only forced to take up Al-Araibi’s case after an international campaign, involving Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the football community, started up. The Foreign Affairs minister has been shamed into trying to get him released.

Al-Araibi’s “crime” was to use his freedom in Australia in 2016 to criticise a member of the Bahraini royal family, Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, for locking up and torturing athletes in 2012.

Sheikh Salman was campaigning to become the next president of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and had a good chance of winning. It is thought that he lost the vote because of concerns about Bahrain’s human rights record. Al-Araibi helped expose this.

While other football organisations have come out strongly in support of Al-Araibi, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), headed by Sheikh Salman, has remained silent.

Al-Araibi’s lawyers are calling on immigration minister Peter Dutton to step in and grant citizenship to Al-Araibi.

Al-Araibi has good reason to be terrified about being extradited to Bahrain. Human Rights Watch says Bahrain’s human rights situation has continued to deteriorate.

Judge Mohammad Bin Ali Al-Khalifa, who sentenced Al-Araibi in his absence, has upheld a court sentence against a prominent human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, over a personal tweet; issued dozens of arbitrary sentences against prisoners of conscience; stripped 57 Bahrainis of their citizenship for political reasons; sentenced Bahrain’s opposition leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, to 9 years’ jail; and upheld the death sentence against a victim of torture, Maher Al-Khabaz.

The real crime is that Al-Araibi is being held in Thailand for exposing human rights abuses by AFC president Sheikh Salman and the Bahraini Royal Family. Only through international and local pressure has the Australian government been forced to reveal its own shady role in the detention of Al-Araibi.

Al-Araibi must be released. You can help Green Left Weekly continue to campaign for human rights for refugees by becoming a supporter. Alternatively, you can make a one-off donation by Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) to Bendigo Bank.

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