Thai Prosecutors Ignore International Outcry, Move To Extradite Refugee Footballer

Thai prosecutors this week asked a Bangkok court to order the extradition of Hakeem al-Araibi, a former Bahrain soccer player, in relation to allegations that he used explosives to damage a police station in his home country. Al-Araibi, 25, was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 but was detained on his honeymoon at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok in November 2018 as the result of a now-withdrawn Interpol red notice. He denies any offending but was convicted in-absentia and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. His denial is supported by evidence that he was playing overseas in a televised football match at the time of the alleged attack on the station.

Al-Araibi’s detention has sparked international outcry, with the Australian government leading the chorus of disapproval. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison appealed to his Thai counterpart to release al-Araibi back to Australia, and football’s governing body FIFA also wrote, urging the Junta leader to step in. Human rights groups have similarly called for Thailand to refuse the extradition, with Evan Jones, the programme director for Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network telling CNN that al-Araibi is a torture survivor and “it is almost certain that he’d suffer the same fate again if returned to Bahrain.” Al-Araibi himself has spoken of his fear of being deported to Bahrain, telling The Guardian, “in Bahrain there are no human rights and no safety for people like me,” further asserting that the extradition notice was connected to comments he made about Bahrain’s human rights record, saying “This is nothing to do with my conviction, Bahrain wants me back to punish me, because I talked to the media about terrible human rights.”

Given Bahrain’s history of human rights abuses against those who criticize the powerful ruling family, there is no doubt that if al-Araibi were extradited, he would face imprisonment and torture. Despite Thailand’s seemingly good relations with Bahrain, they rightly risk significant international backlash if they were to return a refugee to the country he fled from. The Thai courts should immediately release al-Araibi so he can return to Australia, given it is now widely recognized that the Interpol notice was approved on illegal grounds. Al-Araibi’s extradition hearing can best be described by the legal metaphor of “fruit from the poisonous tree” in that, given the illegality of the Interpol red notice under which he was first detained, any subsequent legal action should also be deemed unlawful. Thus, Thailand should immediately cease all legal proceedings against al-Araibi.

Despite not officially recognising asylum seekers, Thailand recently received praise for refusing to extradite Rahaf al-Qunun, a Saudi teenager who fled her abusive family. At the time, head of Immigration, Surachate Hakparn told media that Thailand will not “send anyone to their death.”

Al-Araibi’s continued detention and attempted extradition hold significant implications for the Thai government – firstly, to send him back to Bahrain would undoubtedly damage their relations with Australia and likely breach a number of international laws. Secondly, it would undo recently made promises and a memorandum of understanding released in the wake of the Rahaf al-Qunun coverage that Thailand would no longer send people back to countries where they face persecution. Bahrain has dubiously convicted thousands in response to the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, and given al-Araibi’s credible alibi, his conviction seems no different. Thailand should disregard its relationship with Bahrain and focus on the blatant abuse of human rights, the illegally issued red notice and should exercise common sense and release al-Araibi. To do otherwise would send a refugee to certain incarceration, torture and possible death.