(New York) – Thailand’s government should ensure that Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali al-Araibi, a recognized refugee, is not returned to Bahrain, Human Rights Watch said today. If returned, he would face an imminent risk of wrongful detention and ill-treatment by Bahraini authorities.
“The Thai government needs to realize the grave dangers facing Hakeem al-Araibi if he is returned to Bahrain,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Thai immigration authorities should immediately release al-Araibi, who is recognized as a refugee in Australia, and ensure that he’s not put in harm’s way in violation of international law.”
Thai officials said that immigration authorities detained al-Araibi on November 27, 2018, when he arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport from Australia. Authorities told al-Araibi the arrest was based on an Interpol “Red Notice” issued at Bahrain’s request. Thai officials informed him that he would be handed over to Bahrain.
In 2012, Bahraini authorities arrested al-Araibi and tortured him in detention, allegedly for his brother’s political activities. Al-Araibi asserted that at the time of the alleged crime, he was playing in a televised football match in Qatar. In 2014, he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison. He escaped to Australia in 2014 and was granted refugee status in 2017.
He is currently a professional football player with Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne. He remains openly critical of the government of Bahrain and the current Bahraini president of the Asian Football Confederation, Sheikh Salman Al-Khalifa. He has also talked to the media about the torture he suffered in 2012 while in the custody of the Bahraini authorities.
Thailand is legally bound to respect the international law principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits countries from returning anyone to a country where they may face torture or other serious human rights violations. Non-refoulement is explicitly prescribed by the United Nations Convention against Torture, to which Thailand is a party, and is considered part of customary international law.
“Thailand should do the right thing by putting al-Araibi on the next flight to Australia, which recognizes his refugee status and provides him safe sanctuary,” Adams said. “Handing him over to Bahrain would be a heartless act that blatantly violates Thailand’s obligations to protect refugees and opens Bangkok up to a chorus of international criticism.”