Hakeem al-Araibi’s life is not under threat and he could appeal his conviction if he returned to, the Bahraini government has said in its first significant response to the international outrage at its efforts to reclaim the dissident refugee.
Al-Araibi, who is a permanent resident of Australia, has beenwhile Thai authorities process an extradition request from Bahrain. The 25-year-old has said he fears Bahrain authorities will imprison and torture or possibly kill him if he is returned.
In response to , the Bahrain government told the Guardian there was “no threat to his life”.
“Activists claiming to speak on his behalf suggest his life is in danger if he returns to Bahrain, but he has only been sentenced to imprisonment,” a spokesman said.
“Had Al-Araibi remained in Bahrain, he would also have had the chance to appeal alongside his co-accused. Instead he fled Bahrain after being released on bail to play professional football.”
Al-Araibi has been, which determined he had a well-founded fear of persecution in his country of origin, and travelled to Thailand with his wife intending to honeymoon. He claims he received Australian government advice that he was safe to travel.
He was arrested in Bangkok after Interpol erroneously approved Bahrain’s request for a red notice warrant, against its own protocols to protect refugees from the countries they fled.
The 2014 conviction, delivered in absentia and with a 10-year jail sentence, was, that they committed an act of vandalism against a police station.
The act occurred at the same time, or very soon after, Al-Araibi was playing in a televised football match, and the trial judge – a member of the royal family – has been accused of ignoring key evidence.
Human Rights Watch’s deputy south-east Asia director, Phil Robertson, described the conviction as “bogus”.
The government spokesman, who described the vandalism as “terrorism-related”, said all Bahraini individuals were entitled to legitimate legal representation and appeals, and convictions in Bahrain’s criminal court related to the penal code and “do not in any way relate to political views or the right to expression”.
“In all cases brought by the public prosecutor, litigants are accorded their full legal rights and guaranteed an independent and transparent trial in line with international standards that insure fair and equal treatment for all,” he said.
Amnesty International Australia said it had repeatedlyrepressive tactics by the Bahraini government against civil society including travel bans, dissolution of opposition groups and media, and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders.
“As recently as December, the conviction and sentencing of prominent human rights defenderhas demonstrated Bahrain’s farcical justice system,” Amnesty’s national director, Claire Mallinson, told the Guardian
“To assert that he ‘has only been sentenced to imprisonment’ does not reflect the real danger of torture that Hakeem will face if returned, and that he himself has previously attested to.”
In 2016 Al-Araibi detailed his previous imprisonment and torture in a Bahrain prison.
Bahrain’s spokesman said the kingdom took allegations of mistreatment “very seriously” and had established a special investigations unit and ombudsman which he claimed had received “international recognition”.
“Bahrain remains committed to upholding the rule of law and safeguarding individual rights protected by the kingdom’s constitution.”
However according to the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, Al-Araibi’s claims of abuse and torture were never investigated and no security personnel were held accountable.
“The Bahraini government are trading on the legal procedures to distract the international public opinion,” Yahya Alhadid, president of the GIDHR, told the Guardian.
“If Hakeem is extradited back to Bahrain, he will face continuous electric shocks, because he dared to criticise a member of the royal family.
“We had previous experience with the political detainee the athlete Hamad Al-Fahed, whose sentence was [increased] from 15 years in prison to a life sentence after speaking out about the torture he was subjected to: electric shocks, and stripping him naked.”
GIDHR’s Fatima Yazbek said security forces were considered infallible in Bahrain, the UN special rapporteur was still banned from entering the country, and the ombudsman was essentially a public relations exercise.
The Australian government, international NGOs, and football player associations are among countless groups lobbying for the release of Al-Araibi back to Australia, particularlyback to Saudi Arabia last week.
Key questions about the complicated case remain unanswered, including the actions of the Australian federal police and its officers seconded to the country’s Interpol bureau, whichbecause of the red notice against him.