Pro footballer who criticised Bahrain royal family arrested in Thailand now facing extradition

Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali AlAraibi has been living and playing in Australia since fleeing his homeland after being tortured

Colin Drury
Sunday 02 December 2018 14:36
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Mr AlAraibi has been highly critical of Bahrain’s royal family
Mr AlAraibi has been highly critical of Bahrain’s royal family

A professional footballer from Bahrain who was granted refugee status in Australia after reportedly being tortured in his home country has been arrested in Thailand and told he faces extradition.

Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali AlAraibi has been highly critical of Bahrain’s royal family while living in Melbourne, where he plays for the city’s Pascoe Vale FC.

He has given interviews revealing the brutal lack of freedoms in the Middle East state and spoken about his own 2012 arrest and torture for what he says were politically motivated reasons.

He has been especially critical of Sheikh Salman Alkhalifa, a royal and current president of the Asian Football Confederation.

Australia granted the midfielder asylum in 2017 due to fears for his safety if he returned home, but he was detained on Tuesday while visiting Bangkok. The Bahrain Embassy there said he would now be transferred home because he “is wanted for security cases”.

Thai authorities were acting on a Red Notice issued by Interpol on Bahrain’s request. The notice says he is sought because, in 2014, he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalising a police station – a charge he denies, saying he was playing in a televised football match at the time of the alleged crime.

Supporters say the charges are trumped up and a brazen attempt to silence Mr Ali AlAraibi, who was blindfolded and beaten when previously arrested in 2012.

Rights groups say Interpol’s Red Notice – which is a request to provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition – violates the organisation’s own policy that such notices will not be issued against refugees.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said: “If Hakeem is extradited to Bahrain, he is at great risk of facing torture and unlawful imprisonment. His extradition would constitute to refoulement and therefore would be a clear breach of international law. The UN and Australian authorities must fight to prevent a disastrous outcome.”

In a supporting statement Radha Stirling, founder of Detained In Dubai, said Bahrain was using Interpol for its own political ends. “This case serves to highlight what has become habitual abuse of the Interpol system by Gulf countries; and, more broadly, it reveals severe systemic flaws in the way Interpol operates,” she said.

Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Thailand, added: “Hakeem is a refugee accepted by Australia, so Thailand should do the right thing by sending him back to Australia on the next flight.

“Under no circumstances should Thai immigration authorities hand him over to Bahrain, where he faces 10 years in prison on a politically motivated conviction and a repeat of the torture he experienced before he fled.

“Sending him back to Bahrain would be a heartless act that violates Thailand’s obligations to protect refugees and will surely result in global condemnation.”

As of Sunday morning, Australian officials were yet to comment.

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Mr AlAraibi has said he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten while he was previously held in a Bahrain prison. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain.

Bahrain has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.

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