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Hakeem al-Araibi, an Australian-based refugee and semi-professional soccer player, remains detained in Thailand following his arrest three weeks ago, Al Jazeera reports.
His arrest followed a Red Notice (an Interpol alert to find and temporarily detain an individual awaiting extradition), issued by Bahrain. The notice was then withdrawn, as notices are unenforceable if issued by the country from which a refugee fled. Yet al-Araibi still faces extradition to Bahrain. A Thai court decided that al-Araibi will remain imprisoned for 60 days, so Thai immigration can arrange his extradition back to Bahrain, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) writes.
The former Bahrain national football team player is wanted by Bahrain for “deliberately attack[ing] a police station with improvised explosive devices” in November 2012. He was found guilty in absentia, and sentenced to ten years in jail, SMH reports. However, the football player and his supporters have maintained his innocence as live TV footage shows he was playing soccer for his former-Bahraini team Al Shabab at the time of the supposed crime. Instead, it is thought that Bahrain wishes to persecute al-Araibi for his political beliefs. His friend told Al Jazeera: “I think Hakeem has been targeted because he’s a national figure, plus his brother is very [politically] active, so they target the whole family.” In 2014, al-Araibi fled the repression of Arab Spring protesters in Bahrain, during which he was beaten and tortured because of his brother’s protesting, notes the New York Times (NYT). He was granted political refugee status by Australia in 2017 and is fighting to return to his rightful home. Outside a Thai court, al-Araibi expressed his fears of extradition to Bahrain, telling reporters: “I know what will happen to me…I will be tortured to confess things that I have never done,” BBC writes. Many political figures have condemned Thailand’s actions. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has urged Thailand to release Araibi immediately, SMH reports.
With anti-corruption activist Bill Browder detainment in Spain following a Red Notice by Russia earlier this year, al-Araibi is the latest example of notices being misused by governments aiming to punish dissenters. NYT reports that Interpol has introduced vetting of everyone added to the Red Notice database, but this may not be sufficient; al-Araibi and other refugees shouldn’t be threatened with extradition in the first place. Additionally, more serious repercussions are needed for countries which misuse the Interpol process to satisfy political vendettas. However, a harsher system may urge disobedient countries to leave and form their own corrupt system of catching political critics. How Interpol can punish governments like Bahrain remains undecided, but public awareness, criticism and condemnation of Bahrain’s actions are part of a small step towards accountability.
Thailand’s ex-foreign minister (2008 to 2011), Kasit Piromya said: “There’s no reason to detain him…He may express his opposition to the Bahrain regime but that is freedom of expression.” The government may breach international laws against extraditing refugees to countries where they face persecution or torture, BBC writes. They may also jeopardize their political relationship with Australia in favor of their ties to Bahrain. The reasoning behind siding with Bahrain is unclear, but if the extradition goes ahead, Thailand is setting a precedent that any refugee travelling through Thailand is at risk of deportation. All eyes are on Thai foreign minister Don Pramudwinai, who is ultimately responsible for deciding al-Araibi’s future.
The legitimacy of Red Notices is being called into question, and cases like al-Araibi’s are falling through the cracks of the Interpol system. On top of increasing vetting and enforcing repercussions, Interpol should investigate this situation to prevent future individuals from facing unwarranted and often unlawful extradition. In the meantime, Thailand must weigh up their options, and decide whether a small Gulf state’s appeasement is worth more than its own international reputation.