By Wilawan Watcharasakwet
A former Bahrain football player will remain under detention in Bangkok for 12 more days, Thai officials said Tuesday, pending a decision from authorities about whether to send him to Bahrain where he was convicted of a crime, or to Australia where has a refugee status.
Hakeem AlAraibi, 25, was detained on Nov. 27 when he arrived for vacation at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport from Australia. Authorities said his arrest was based on an Interpol “Red Notice” issued at Bahrain’s request.
“Thailand’s foreign ministry is speeding up document examination, including the arrest warrant from Bahrain to determine whether it’s valid or not,” immigration police chief Surachate Hakpan told BenarNews.
“Then, officials will have to forward all the documents to the public prosecutors for their consideration before submitting to the court who may see the arrest warrant valid, thus allowing the police to hand him over to Bahrain,” he said.
AlAraibi’s 12-day remand at a Thai detention center started Monday after a court approved the immigration bureau’s request to give them enough time to decide on his case, Surachate said.
Surachate said he had discussed AlAraibi’s detention with Paul Stephens, Australia’s deputy head of mission, on Monday.
“I told the envoy that if the investigation finds the footballer cleared of all cases, he could be sent to his requested country,” Surachet said.
“He told me he wants to go to Australia,” Surachet said. “He doesn’t want to go to Bahrain.”
Bahrain has no extradition treaty with Thailand, but a legal expert told BenarNews that an extradition could be done on reciprocal basis or through a special agreement.
AlAraibi, who is a professional football player in Melbourne, remains openly critical of the government of Bahrain and the current Bahraini president of the Asian Football Confederation, Sheikh Salman Al-Khalifa, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW, in a statement, underscored Thailand’s legal responsibility to respect the international law principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits countries from returning refugees to a country where they may face torture or other serious human rights violations.
AlAraibi fled Bahrain two years after he was allegedly tortured by authorities while under detention in 2012. He was granted asylum in Australia last year, rights groups said.
Bahrain, through its embassy in Thailand, said in a Twitter post that AlAraibi “is wanted for security cases.” It did not elaborate.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), urged the United Nations and Australia to fight for AlAraibi’s return to Melbourne “to prevent a disastrous outcome.”
“If Hakeem is extradited to Bahrain, he is at great risk of facing torture and unlawful imprisonment,” he said in a statement. “His extradition would constitute to refoulement and therefore would be a clear breach of international law.”
Rights groups said AlAraibi was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison after he was convicted of vandalizing a police station in Bahrain. But AlAraibi denied the charge and claimed he was playing a football match that was televised live when the alleged crime occurred.
In an interview with Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service last week, AlAraibi said he feared for his life if he were to be returned to Bahrain.
“It’s very dangerous there [for me],” he said. “In Bahrain, they want to kill me.”
Amnesty International Australia on Tuesday called on Thai authorities to end AlAraibi’s detention.
“Thai immigration must release him now and allow him to come home to Australia,” Diana Sayed, campaigner for Amnesty International Australia, told Australian reporters. “Hakeem will not be safe until he is back on Australian soil.”
Amnesty, in a statement, said AlAraibi’s sentencing in Bahrain was a result of an “unfair trial.”
“A former player of Bahrain’s national soccer team, he has spoken out about a senior Bahraini official’s practice of torturing footballers who participate in demonstrations,” it said. “He was himself arrested in November 2012 and tortured.”