On January 24th, 2019 the Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) Pier Antonio Panzeri (S&D) released a statement on the unlawful detention in Thailand of Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi. Panzeri expresses deep concern on the ongoing situation of Hakeem, fearing extreme consequences for the footballer.
The Member of the European Parliament asserts that the return of Hakeem to Bahrain would represent a violation of “international human rights law and put his life in serious danger”, and that Thai authorities should guarantee Hakeem’s safe return to Australia. MEP Panzeri encourages the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA to put in place the release of the Bahraini footballer, by underlining the fact that this case is “a fundamental test for the sport and for the international football authorities.” Furthermore, he urges the Australian government to continue its efforts to seek the return for Hakeem to Australia, where his new life and family are waiting for him.
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 activism of his brother, Emad Al-Araibi. 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. 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). Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of the ruling family, and then head of the BFA, has been accused of identifying athletes who participated in the 2011 pro-democracy protests, some of whom were later tortured. Hakeem has since publicly criticized Sheikh Salman’s role.
In May 2014, Hakeem fled to Australia where he applied, and received asylum. On 27 November 2018, he travelled 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 that Red Notices will not be issued “if the status of refugee or asylum-seeking has been confirmed.” While INTERPOL lifted the Red Notice on 4 December, Hakeem remained in detention, as Thailand processed 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 European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) calls upon the Thai authorities to take immediate action to release Hakeem Al-Araibi. Moreover, the ECDHR calls upon the European Union to monitor Hakeem’s case and more broadly all other human rights activists, journalists and political prisoners detained in Bahrain.