Today, after more than 70 days of unlawful detention at the Bangkok’s Klong Prem Remand Prison, Thai authorities withdrew the extradition case of Bahraini football player Hakeem AlAraibi.“The court will now issue an order to release Mr Hakeem from jail today,” said Chatchom Akapin, the Director General of International Affairs Department. It is expected that Hakeem will fly to Australia as soon as possible, perhaps this evening. This news occurs only one week after the worrying verdict of the Bangkok Criminal Court. Indeed, on 4 February, Hakeem had appeared in court to fight extradition to Bahrain. That day the court ruled that he would remain in prison until his next court hearing on April 22.
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.
Craig Foster, Australian former football player and broadcaster, described this decision as a “win on many many aspects” and expressed his joy on Twitter: “Most important thing now is Hakeem’s immediate well-being”, “My thoughts are with Hakeem’s wife. Her nightmares will shortly be at an end.” The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) welcomes the decision of the Thai court. We are happy to hear that soon Hakeem will go back to Australia and re-join his wife and friends. The story of Hakeem shows that through international mobilisation it is possible to fight violations of human rights and achieve great results in the name of justice.