The Guardian: Hakeem al-Araibi: Marise Payne lobbies Thailand to release refugee footballer


January 10,2019

Australia’s foreign affair minister has “reiterated” concerns about refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi at a meeting with Thai counterparts on Thursday, as pressure mounts to have him freed.

Marise Payne, who has been calling for al-Araibi’s release since he was detained in late November, was in Bangkok for bilateral meetings and raised the cases of two refugees held by Thailand.

“We are, as I’ve said, very concerned about his detention, very concerned about any potential for return of Mr Araibi to Bahrain,” she said.

“I have reiterated those concerns to both ministers.”

Al-Araibi was detained by Thai officials on the basis of an erroneous Interpol red notice over a vandalism conviction handed down in absentia at a Bahrain trial.

“Mr Al-Araibi was granted permanent residency by the Australian government in recognition of his status as a refugee,” Payne had noted on Wednesday.

In anticipation of Payne’s meeting, human rights organisations and advocates renewed pressure on the parties involved to free Al-Araibi.

At a press conference and protest in Sydney, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, and high-profile football identities urged Payne to put “maximum pressure” on Thailand.

Elaine Pearson, the Australian director of Human Rights Watch, said there were key questions for the Thai government and its decisions on Al-Araibi’s case, while separately agreeing to protect Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun.

Pearson said the Thai government had an “appalling record when it comes to collaborating with authoritarian regimes to return their citizens”, citing the deportations of Uighurs and another Bahraini dissident who was then imprisoned, beaten and tortured.

Thailand and Bahrain have close investment relationships, and the Bahrain foreign affairs minister was scheduled to visit Thailand soon, Pearson said.

“We are certainly concerned about why the Thai government is prioritising the relationship with the kingdom of Bahrain over its relationship with Australia.”

Pearson said Al-Araibi was recognised under international law as a refugee.

“If Hakeem is sent back to Bahrain it means all refugees, wherever they are in the world, will live in fear about travelling to certain countries because of the risk they could be returned to the countries they fled persecution from.”

Graham Thom, refugee coordinator at Amnesty International Australia, said the spotlight was not just on Thailand, but on Asean, which Thailand was set to become chair of this year.

“We need the global community to stand up and condemn the situation both from Thailand and Bahrain that [allowed] this to occur,” said Thom.

“This is an extraordinary situation, it would be an extraordinary breach of Thailand’s human rights obligations [if he were returned],” he said.

The world football body, Fifa, issued another press release on Thursday calling for “a humane and speedy resolution of the case” and his release.

“This player, a Bahrain national, is currently being detained in prison in Thailand awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings to Bahrain, where he was previously convicted of a criminal offence, the validity of which he strongly contests,” it said.

It followed revelations by Guardian Australia that Fifa and executives from Football Federation Australia had met with Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president and Bahraini royal, Sheikh Salman Al-Khalifa, for the first time to discuss Al-Araibi’s case.

Thursday’s protest group also called for world football bodies, including Fifa, to live up to their own human rights codes, and for the UNHCR to do more to help Al-Araibi as they had done for Qunun.

They called for Sheikh Salman to make a public statement in support of Al-Araibi.

Former Socceroo captain and football analyst Craig Foster said the silence of the AFC was completely unacceptable, particularly in the context of human rights policies enacted in recent years.

“Sheikh Salman is obligated to support Hakeem, he is obligated to do everything in his power to advocate both privately and publicly, and to use the immense leverage that football has with the Bahrain government – his own government – and the Thai government,” said Foster.

“The silence of the Asian Football Confederation is not just confounding, it’s absolutely disgraceful under our human rights obligations within the entire football community.”

Fatima Yazbek, a spokeswoman for the Gulf Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, said there was personal conflict between Al-Araibi and Sheikh Salman, and Sheikh Salman was not fulfilling his obligations to protect the player.

“He should do something, otherwise step down from your position and leave someone more qualified to fulfil the obligations of the position.”

Source:

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jan/10/marise-payne-lobbies-thailand-to-release-refugee-footballer-hakeem-al-araibi