BANGKOK — It was routine procedure to shackle a prominent refugee by his ankles for a much-criticized court appearance, a prison official said Monday.
After photos of Hakeem AlAraibi arriving for a court hearing in leg cuffs went viral and drew anger online, the head of the Bangkok Remand Prison said the footballer had to be placed in physical restraints due to risk of flight.
“The guards ruled that the inmate was at risk of fleeing,” Krit Krasaetip said an interview to Matichon. “Mr. Hakeem is a former footballer. He is a suspect in a case that involved international affairs.”
Asked whether human rights are considered in such decisions, Krit said prison officials fear legal consequences if suspects manage to flee.
“Corrections officials are also at risk of going to jail due to criminal laws violations,” the prison chief said.
Despite repeated calls from various rights groups, Thai prisons routinely place inmates – even those not yet convicted – in shackles when they appear in court. The restraints range from small leg cuffs as placed on Hakeem to large chains. Female inmates or those with disabilities are exempted from wearing physical restraints.
In 2016, the National Human Rights Commission protested corrections officials for putting student activists who had yet to be convicted of anything in leg cuffs for a court appearance.
Though Thai-language media are prohibited from airing uncensored photos of shackled inmates, photos of Hakeem in his ankle restraints went viral anyway thanks to images posted to social media by those at the scene. Many netizens criticized the measure as unnecessarily harsh.
“He didn’t sell drugs. He didn’t kill anyone. He didn’t commit any crimes against Thai people,” Noppadon Varamusik wrote in a news thread. “Why? Why chain his ankles?”
“He didn’t do anything wrong in our country at all, yet they chained him like a death row prisoner. I feel pity for him,” user Di McArthur wrote in another thread.
Some also raised concerns whether shackles could affect AlAraibi’s ability to perform in his football career.
Although the prison chief insisted physical restraints must be applied per regulations, an opposition politician said his personal experience revealed it was up to discretion of the officials.
Chaturon Chaisang, a former minister arrested in the wake of the 2014 coup, wrote online that he was supposed to wear shackles when he appeared at the military court but prison officials opted for handcuffs instead.
“I told them that if the rules say shackles, then don’t exempt me. But when the time came, they put me in handcuffs,” Chaturon wrote. “And they also took me away from the media so there wouldn’t be photos of me.”