Bahrain Files Extradition Request For Refugee Footballer

A file photo of Hakeem AlAraibi. Image: Associated Press

BANGKOK — Bahrain filed an extradition request Tuesday for the return of a footballer with refugee status who has languished in jail for almost two months after being detained while on vacation.

The formal request from Bahrain to return Hakeem AlAraibi, who has been held in Thailand since Nov. 27, alarmed the refugee and human rights activists, whose calls for his release have been joined in recent days by FIFA and the International Olympic Committee.

“Al Araibi was arrested in Thailand and proceedings to extradite him to Bahrain are in process, so that he can serve his sentence,” Bahrain’s Interior Minister Gen. Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulah Al Khalifa said in an online statement posted Monday. “Those raising unfounded doubts about the integrity and independence of the Kingdom’s judicial system are not only interfering, but also attempting to influence the course of justice.”

Evan Jones, spokesman for the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network said concerns about AlAraibi’s fate and ability to receive justice are valid.

“Bahrain’s case is politically motivated and is based off entirely fabricated information. In our eyes, as a refugee from Bahrain, the extradition request should not even be accepted by the Thai government,” Jones said.

Immigration chief Surachate Hakparn could not be reached for comment.

Yahya Alhadid, president of the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights said that Hakeem was at risk of death if extradited.

“Bahraini courts issued harsh sentences today, including death sentences against political detainees and life sentences against opposition leaders. This is a serious indicator of what is waiting for Hakeem if extradited back to Bahrain,” Alhadid said. “We also call on Thailand not to respond to the extradition request and to keep their international obligations not to send anyone to a state or country where they might face torture.”

Hakeem AlAraibi was detained Nov. 27 at the airport before being move to Bangkok Remand Prison in Dec. 11, where the law allows him to be held without charge until Feb. 9. Under Thai law, Bahrain had to file its request for AlAraibi by then, or request that his custody be extended another 30 days.

AlAraibi fled Bahrain in 2014 to Australia after he was sentenced to a decade in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station, a crime that allegedly occurred while AlAraibi was playing a televised football match. Supporters of AlAraibi say he was tortured by Bahraini authorities in 2012 for his brother’s political activism and criticism of the royal family.

AlAraibi, 25, was granted refugee status by Australia in November 2017 and plays for the Pascoe Vale Football Club. Both the International Olympic Committee and FIFA have requested Thailand to return AlAraibi to Australia.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said that if extradited, Thailand could face “very serious, negative consequences.”

“There is a rapid global movement demanding for him to be free. There could be serious consequences from FIFA and world football. Thailand could face a boycott or sanctions related to World Cup 2022. Thailand needs to be thinking very clearly,” Robertson said.

His case has drawn fresh interest after a young Saudi woman fleeing her family barricaded herself in a transit lounge at Suvarnabhumi Airport rather than be deported back to them. Under intense scrutiny, Thai authorities relented and allowed Rahaf AlQunun to enter the country under UN protection. She was granted refugee status and resettled in Canada.

Rahaf Alqunun shakes hand with immigration chief Surachate Hakparn, at right, Monday at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport. Photo: Immigration Bureau
Rahaf Alqunun shakes hand with immigration chief Surachate Hakparn, at right, Jan. 7 at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Photo: Immigration Bureau

Robertson said AlAraibi has an even stronger case that AlQunun, as he was already an established refugee in Australia.

“It’s not easy to get refugee status in Australia. He went through the entire process, an interview, a background check. For Thailand to simply disregard that shows contempt for international human rights standards.”

The Bahrain Embassy in Thailand tweeted on Jan. 12 a video where a Bahraini man flips through a notebook with diplomatic photos set to piano music.

“This is where our journey started. From this place, loyal men embark with a message for the entire world. … Our journey continues towards peace, coexistence and mutual respect,” the voiceover says.

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