Thailand arrests Bahrain refugee for possible extradition

In this Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, image from video, Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali AlAraib speaks at Bangkok International Airport. (SBS via AP)
In this Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, image from video, Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali AlAraib speaks at Bangkok International Airport. (SBS via AP)

Bangkok (AP) — A soccer player who holds refugee status in Australia has been officially arrested ahead of a court ruling on whether he will be extradited to Bahrain, the homeland he fled four years ago, police in Thailand said Friday.

Immigration Police chief Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said Hakeem al-Araibi, who was detained upon entry at Bangkok’s airport on Nov. 27, is being held legally following a request from Bahrain’s government. He had traveled to Thailand on a holiday with his wife.

“The Australian consul got to visit him already,” Surachate said. “We have provided nice halal meals for him three times a day. We are enforcing the law to international standards.”

Al-Araibi has told the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, which is lobbying for his release, that he fears he will be tortured if he is sent back to Bahrain. The human rights organization Amnesty International says he is in serious danger of torture or other ill treatment.

The international Convention Against Torture, to which Thailand became a party in 2007, does not allow nations to extradite people if there are substantial grounds for believing that they would be in danger of torture.

Surachate said the issue will be dealt with by a Thai court. “For that, we need to wait for the court verdict. The law says he has the right to appeal the verdict. It’s up to the court’s consideration.” He added that al-Araibi would be brought before a court next Tuesday.

Al-Araibi’s detention has also drawn concern from FIFA, the world soccer governing body, and the Australian government.

He was sentenced in absentia in Bahrain in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station, a charge he denies. 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, and has a reputation for harsh repression since its failed “Arab Spring” uprising in 2011.

Al-Araibi, 25, has said he was tortured in Bahrain after his 2012 arrest and fled in 2014 to Australia, which granted him political asylum last year. He had played for Bahrain’s national soccer team and now plays for Melbourne’s Pascoe Vale Football Club. He has been publicly critical of Bahrain’s royal family’s alleged involvement in sports scandals.

“I appeal to the United Nations, individual states, FIFA, footballers, and all people, as my fate is now in danger and my future will soon be over,” a statement issued late Thursday by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy quoted al-Araibi as saying.

“If I am deported to Bahrain, don’t forget me, and if once I’m there you hear me saying things, don’t believe me. I know what will happen to me and I know I will be tortured to confess things that I have never done. Please continue your fight to save me.”

FIFA said in a statement Thursday that al-Araibi should be returned to Australia “at the earliest possible moment.”

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, attending a conference in Indonesia on Thursday, told reporters that her government was very concerned about al-Araibi’s situation and was pursuing the case through diplomatic channels.

“He has been visited by our officials in Thailand and we are grateful to the Thai authorities for the support that they are providing to him and we hope that we can see a swift decision that will ensure his future safety,” she said.

Thailand sometimes disregards international legal conventions on refugees, with recent examples including ones from China and Turkey.