Human Rights Concerns For Bahraini Footballer Held In Thailand

Human Rights Watch is one of several rights groups calling for Thailand to refrain from extraditing the Bahraini professional football player Hakeem Ali Mohammed Ali al-Araibi to his home country this week. It is feared that al-Araibi would face torture and wrongful imprisonment if he were to be deported.

Hakeem al-Araibi was arrested by Bahraini authorities in 2012 on suspicion of involvement with the vandalization of a police station. This is a charge al-Ariabi denies. He contends that he was playing in a televised football match against Qatar at the time of the alleged crime. While under arrest, al-Araibi claims he was blindfolded and beaten by Bahraini security forces. In 2014, al-Araibi was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison before he escaped to Australia. In 2017, he was granted status there as a refugee. He is currently a professional football player for Melbourne’s Pascoe Vale FC.

On 27 November 2018, al-Araibi was detained at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport upon arrival from Australia. Thai officials have stated that their immigration authorities were responding to an Interpol “Red Notice” issued by Bahrain, which requests the location and provisional arrest of an individual about to be extradited.

Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, Brad Adams, stated that “the Thai government needs to realize the grave dangers facing Hakeem al-Araibi if he is returned to Bahrain.” Adams called upon Thai immigration authorities to “immediately release al-Araibi,” or face “a chorus of international criticism.” Other rights groups have also argued that the Thai government’s deportation of al-Araibi would be a direct contravention of Interpol’s policy that Red Notices do not apply to those with refugee status. Furthermore, the United Nations Convention against Torture’s principle of “non-refoulement” disallows the extradition of anybody facing torture or mistreatment.

Bahrain is a country with a notoriously weak human rights record. Widespread abuses, including torture and ill-treatment of dissidents, have been documented by Human Rights Watch since anti-government protests erupted in the country in 2011. In 2017, the country’s only independent newspaper was shut down, and there are no laws in place to prohibit discrimination on grounds of gender or sexuality.

Hakeem al-Araibi has said that he believes he has been targeted by the Bahraini government for his family’s Shi’ite faith. Bahrain’s ruling Sunni monarchy ensures Shi’ite marginalization and discrimination. Al-Araibi is also an outspoken critic of Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, the president of football’s governing body in Asia and a member of Bahrain’s ruling family. FIFA has previously investigated Sheikh Salman’s link to the jailing and torture of Bahraini athletes involved in the 2011 protests.

Al-Araibi’s case illuminates the current state of human rights in Bahrain. Despite condemnation from groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for the country’s consistent repression and abuse, there is no sign that conditions have improved over recent years. At the time of writing, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have stated that Australian embassy officials in Bangkok were in direct contact with Thai authorities regarding al-Araibi’s case. Although Thailand is legally bound to respect international protocol in al-Araibi’s favour, Bahrain’s disregard for his refugee status suggests that the country’s administration is still set on pursuing dissidents in defiance of international law.