Bahraini refugee at risk of deportation from Thailand to Bahrain where he may face torture

29 November 2018 – On Tuesday 27 November, Thai authorities in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) detained Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali AlAraibi, a Bahrain-born man residing in Australia under refugee status. His detention stems from an INTERPOL Red Notice against him, issued upon request of Bahrain on the basis of a 2014 criminal conviction. He has been informed that he would be returned to Bahrain once Thai Immigration authorities could provide assistance. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), and the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) are deeply concerned that AlAraibi will be deported back to Bahrain, where he is at risk of torture and abuse. To ensure this is not the case, we strongly urge the Thai government to release AlAraibi and we call upon the Australian authorities to intervene on his behalf to prevent his deportation.

AlAraibi is well-known in Bahrain for having played on the kingdom’s national team. He was arrested in November 2012 and tortured. He believes that he was originally targeted for arrest in part because of his Shia faith, as well as because of his brother’s political activity in Bahrain. He has since spoken publicly about his torture, including to the New York Times, stating “They blindfolded me. […] They held me really tight, and one started to beat my legs really hard, saying: ‘You will not play soccer again. We will destroy your future.’”

On 5 January 2014, Mr. AlAraibi was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison on the charge of vandalizing a police station. However, he was in Qatar at the time of his trial and claims that he was playing in a live televised match when the alleged crime occurred. Despite this, when his family reached out to the Bahraini soccer association to confirm his alibi, their requests went unanswered. On 5 May 2014, AlAraibi fled to Australia, where he applied for asylum on 2 June 2014. His request was granted in November 2017 and he was given a visa permitting him to remain in Australia indefinitely and to travel to and from the country, so long as he does not travel to Bahrain. However, his recent travel to Bangkok, Thailand, resulted in his detention and pending deportation back to Bahrain.

His current detention under INTERPOL’s Red Notice system is inconsistent with the INTERPOL Executive Committee’s formal policy with respect to refugees. The policy states that Red Notices will not be issued “if the status of refugee or asylum-seeking has been confirmed.” Further, the maintenance of a Red Notice against AlAraibi is likely in violation of INTERPOL’s own regulations. INTERPOL states in its Constitution that the organization will operate “in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” The UDHR provides for the right to life, liberty and security of person, the prohibition of torture, the prohibition of arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, the right to a fair trial, the right to a presumption of innocence, and the right to freedom of movement, among others. In this light, not only are INTERPOL’s regulations violated, but the Bahraini government’s conviction of AlAraibi is in violation of the basic principles of human rights.

Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei, Director of Advocacy of BIRD commenting: “Hakeem made brave interventions to expose the role of powerful members of the Bahraini royal family in sporting scandals. Interpol has violated its obligations, as Hakeem holds refugee status and returning him to Bahrain puts him at significant risk of torture and imprisonment. His deportation would undoubtedly damage the reputation of Interpol’s newly-elected president early into his tenure.”

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB commenting: “The Bahraini government’s use of INTERPOL Red Notices for political charges is an egregious violation of INTERPOL’s own system and serves to demonstrate the lengths the government will go to suppress dissent. The charges against Hakeem are completely spurious and obviously only of a political nature. We call upon INTERPOL to immediately drop the Red Notice against Hakeem and for the Thai government to release him.”

ADHRB, BIRD, and ECDHR strongly condemn Bahrain’s use of INTERPOL to pursue political dissidents and critics of the government. We call upon INTERPOL to immediately drop the Red Notice against AlAraibi, on the Thai government to immediately and unconditionally release AlAraibi and allow him to travel without hindrance. We further call upon the Australian government to intervene on AlAraibi’s behalf to ensure that he is not sent back to Bahrain, where he faces the very real risk of torture and abuse.