BANGKOK — Hakeem AlAraibi and Rahaf Alqunun are two different cases, the head of Thai immigration said Monday as pressure mounts for Thailand to free the former rather than extradite him to Bahrain.
Lt. Gen. Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn said the recent case of the young Saudi woman briefly held then allowed to depart a refugee cannot be compared to that of refugee athlete AlAraibi because the latter was the subject of an arrest warrant justifying his detention.
“Hakeem’s case is different from Rahaf Mohamed Alqunun from Saudi Arabia’s case because Hakeem had an arrest warrant out for him, but she did not. What’s more, Hakeem was the subject of an extradition request,” Surachate said.
Alqunun was guaranteed safe passage by Hakparn after she barricaded herself in a Suvarnabhumi Airport transit lounge rather than be forcibly deported back to her Saudi family. Thai officials reversed course under tremendous public scrutiny brought by Alqunun pleading her case over social media. She was successfully resettled in Canada within days after Surachate said he would not “send someone to their death.”
On Monday the Thai Criminal Court ruled that Bahraini footballer AlAraibi could appeal his extradition to Bahrain, where his supporters say he risks persecution on trumped-up charges. His next hearing was set for late April.
Australia’s ambassador to Thailand, who appeared at the court Monday with AlAraibi, said in a statement that Bahrain had never requested AlAraibi’s extradition in the four years he has lived in Australia.
“As soon as Hakeem and his wife travelled to Thailand for their honeymoon, the Government of Bahrain expedited its coordination with the Thai Government to have Hakeem arrested and commence extradition proceedings immediately,” the statement reads. “The actions of the Bahraini Government have put Thailand in a very difficult position. In particular, during what is an important year for the people and country of Thailand.”
Australia has urged Thailand to exercise its legal authority to release AlAraibi. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Thai attorney-general has confirmed that the Extradition Act allows for such discretion.
She said this was also confirmed by prosecutors at yesterday’s hearing.
Bahrain says AlAraibi vandalized a police station and is a fugitive from justice. AlAraibi, who fled the kingdom in 2014, says he was playing in a televised match the day the government says he committed the crime. Australia granted him asylum in 2017.
AlAraibi was allegedly tortured by Bahraini authorities for his brother’s political actions and sentenced to a decade in jail for the alleged vandalism.