Bahrain: 30 Members of the European Parliament Call on Thai Foreign Ministry to Release Hakeem AlAraibi and Allow for His Safe Return to Australia

**Update: Today, 4th of February, marked the formal beginning of the proceedings after Bahrain’s extradition request was formally accepted for consideration by Thailand on the 1st of February. This Monday, in court the judge read out Bahrain’s allegations against him and instead of releasing him they gave him 60 days to prepare a defence against Bahrain’s attempt to extradite him from Thailand. He will remain in a Thai prison for these months, after a judge denied him bail. His lawyers have until the 5th of April to file a written appeal before the next scheduled hearing on the 22nd of April.

1st February 2019 – On Monday, 28 January 2019, 30 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sent a letter to Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Don Pramudwinai. In this letter they expressed grave concern regarding the continued detention of Bahrain-born footballer Hakeem AlAraibi, who is facing extradition to Bahrain.

As a reminder, Hakeem is a former star defender on Bahrain’s national soccer team, who was arrested in November 2012 and tortured, allegedly due to the political activities of his brother, Emad AlAraibi. Since then, he has spoken publicly about his torture. In January 2014, a court sentenced Hakeem in absentia to 10 years in prison on charges of vandalizing a police station. The charges stem from a confession Emad gave authorities after being tortured. However, Hakeem could not physically have participated in the alleged crime because he was playing in a televised match, broadcast on Bahrain’s national sports channel, a fact corroborated by the Bahrain Football Association (BFA).

In May 2014, Hakeem fled to Australia where he applied, and received asylum. He currently plays for the Melbourne club Pascoe Vale FC. On 27 November 2018, he traveled to Bangkok, Thailand, where he was promptly detained in the airport pending his deportation to Bahrain. His detention is due to INTERPOL’s Red Notice system, despite the fact that INTERPOL’s policy states Red Notices will not be issued “if the status of refugee or asylum-seeking has been confirmed.” On 1 December, Thai authorities transferred Hakeem to Suan Phlu immigration detention center, a step towards his deportation. While INTERPOL lifted the Red Notice on 4 December, Hakeem has remained in detention, as Thailand processes a request from Bahrain to extradite him based on his 2014 criminal conviction. On 7 December 2018, a Thai court approved an arrest warrant for him and ordered him to 60 days detention at the Bangkok Remand Prison after the court allowed his extradition hearing to proceed.

The letter to MFA Pramudwinai, which was a result of the advocacy efforts of the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), highlighted the work of the international community in calling for the release of Hakeem. The MEPs referenced Australian MFA Marise Payne’s meetings with Thai government officials, statements made by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and calls from international sporting organizations and high-profile sports figures. Additionally, the MEPs noted the work of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) in jointly submitting an Urgent Appeal concerning Hakeem’s case to the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, which raised concerns about the torture Hakeem would likely face if extradited to Bahrain.

The MEPs concluded by urging the Thai authorities to release Hakeem AlAraibi from detention and ensure his safe return to Australia, where he maintains refugee status.

Numerous MEPs have mobilized around Hakeem’s case. On the MEP letter MEP Julie Ward (S&D) commented: “I hope this strong letter, which demonstrates cross-party support, compels the Thai authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Hakeem and allow him to safely return to Australia. Extraditing him to Bahrain would be dangerous and irresponsible as he would most likely face torture and human rights violations. I trust the Thai authorities are aware of the risks involved and will work with us to uphold human rights.”

Further, MEP Javier Nart (ALDE), also strongly condemned Hakeem’s detention and more broadly expressed deep concerns over on the ongoing and systematic human rights violations in Bahrain: “There is no human dignity without freedom, respect for democracy and human rights. In Bahrain, there is neither democracy nor respect for human rights, therefore no freedom or human dignity. The only definition that a country of one million inhabitants with 4,000 political prisoners merits is tyranny. I give my full support to those Bahrainis who pacifically want to achieve a real democratisation of their country and to put an end to the dark nights of dictatorship and repression.

Last week, on 24 January 2019, MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri (S&D), Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), also personally expressed alarm at the ongoing detention of refugee football player Hakeem AlAraibi in Thailand. MEP Panzeri emphasized the gravity and urgency of the situation and the importance that the Australian government and other organizations advocating for Hakeem AlAraibi’s release continue their efforts.

“The rightful place for Hakeem is certainly not behind bars in Thailand but outside, with his family, friends and supporters,” said MEP Panzeri. “Returning Hakeem Al-Araibi to Bahrain would… put his life in serious danger. Thai immigration authorities should ensure that he is allowed to return to Australia without any harm to his wellbeing.”

Click here to read a pdf of the letter.

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