On 12 March 2019, Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahraini football player who had refugee status in Australia, has received Australian citizenship at a ceremony at Federation Square in Melbourne. He was among 207 people from 44 countries who took a pledge or affirmation. According to the Australian media, he passed his citizenship test with a 100 percent score.
The event was attended by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had actively contributed to the liberation of al-Araibi. Marise Payne, Foreign Affairs Minister, Payne, who was in charge of the diplomatic efforts to secure Al-Araibi’s release, said that the campaign for his liberation had “embodied some of the best aspects of Australia.”
Al-Araibi commented his success: “Finally no country, no one can follow me now because I am Australian. […] Bahrain, please don’t follow me. I am now 100% safe in this country.” Furthermore, he expressed his desire to return to playing football for Pascoe Vale Football Club, aspiring to play for the Socceroos, the Australian National team.
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 European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) gladly welcomes the outcome of al-Araibi’s case. We praise the diplomatic efforts of Australia to save al-Araibi and we acknowledge the outstanding success of the global campaign against the unlawful detention of the Bahraini refugee in Thailand.