Last week, 25-year-old footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi flew to Thailand for a holiday. Because of his refugee status, Hakeem says he had asked Australian immigration authorities and the Thai embassy in Melbourne before leaving if he was safe to travel to Thailand and was reassured by both that he was.
Hakeem was immediately arrested upon his arrival in Bangkok.
The professional soccer player was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his home country of Bahrain in 2014, where he says he was beaten and tortured for his family’s involvement in political protests.
Al-Araibi and his wife had travelled to Thailand from their home in Melbourne, and after his arrest, Hakeem was told by Thai officials that the Bahrain government had placed a red notice on him through Interpol. That notice was lifted Monday afternoon, but a Thai court has now issued an order for Al-Araibi to be held in remand for up to 12 days, subject to renewal.
This effectively means Thai authorities will now determine if he will be sent home to Australia or extradited to Bahrain, the country he fled as a 21 year old.
Last night a spokesperson from the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights issued a press release saying, “Thai immigration received today a formal request from the Bahraini authorities to extradite the detained footballer, Hakeem Al-Araibi, despite the lifting of the red notice on Al-Araibi. The continued arrest of Al-Araibi has no legal basis after Interpol’s red notice was lifted.”
Lawyers from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne have said the Australian government should routinely inform Interpol of refugees who have been granted protection in Australia.
“It is critical that when the Australian government grants protection to refugees, that it reliably follows up on its Interpol member obligations to inform Interpol the person has been granted protection,” a lawyer said. “It is only through such communication that all refugees living in Australia can be reassured that they are protected from any possible abuse of the ‘red notice’ system by the country from which the person fears persecution.
“The prospect that any time a refugee travels overseas they might be handed over to the persecuting country is a terrifying idea, and one that could cause retraumatisation … It is a duty of all members of Interpol, including Australia, to ensure that Interpol’s procedures are not abused by persecuting states and used against those who have established they have a need for protection from that state.”
Toby Cadman, a UK-based barrister and extradition prosecutor, has worked on human rights cases involving Bahrain nationals in the past — including previously campaigning for the Bahrain Attorney-General, Ali Bin Fadhul al-Buainain, to be removed from the executive committee of the International Association of Prosecutors for failing to address widespread allegations of torture. Cadman says that while Bahrain has not successfully managed to extradite someone from overseas recently, Hakeem and his family are rightly afraid of what would happen if he was forced back there.
“It would be a fundamental breach of international law to return him to a place where he is at real risk of torture and would face certain imprisonment, following a trial that can only be characterised as a flagrant denial of justice,” Cadman says. “Bahrain has an appalling human rights record. Arguably Australian authorities have put him at risk by not informing him of the red notice or taking the measures to have that red notice withdrawn, which is standard procedure in most jurisdictions for a person granted asylum.”
Cadman says that since the warrant was withdrawn by Interpol yesterday afternoon, it is unclear on what legal basis the Thai officials continued to hold Hakeem. “Thai officials should rightly refuse the extradition request and allow him to return to Australia where he has been granted refugee status.”
Yesterday, Crikey asked the office of the attorney-general, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Home Affairs which arm of government is responsible for communicating with Interpol once a refugee has been granted asylum in Australia to ensure there are no outstanding Interpol notices.
Media teams from AFP, DFAT and the attorney-general’s office all directed Crikey to Home Affairs as the department that could answer that question. Home Affairs are yet to respond at time of writing.