Last week, the IELR Blog reported on the case of Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old refugee originally from Bahrain who resides and plays professional soccer in Australia. While al-Araibi has retained refugee status in Australia since 2017, Bahraini authorities have had an arrest warrant out for him since he fled the country in 2014. They allege that al-Araibi vandalized a police station, even though he was playing in a televised soccer match when the supposed crime took place. Bahraini authorities issued an INTERPOL Red Notice against al-Araibi, so after travelling from Australia to Thailand last November, he was arrested. However, INTERPOL soon lifted that request, as red notices are not meant to apply to refugees. Nevertheless, he was entered into Thai custody, where he awaited his potential extradition to Bahrain.
On Monday, February 11, Thai authorities released al-Araibi after detaining him for more than two months. According to Thailand’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG), Bahraini authorities no longer sought al-Araibi’s extradition, leaving the OAG no further reason to detain him. Although Bahrain terminated their extradition request, they emphasized that they had not cleared al-Araibi of the charges against him. Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry issued an official statement, noting that “The Kingdom of Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against Mr. al-Araibi.”
Al-Araibi’s release follows a massive international outcry against his detention. Since al-Araibi had made no secret of his public opposition to Bahrain’s human rights record, many attributed his arrest to his previous comments. Figures from the sports world and beyond spoke in his defense. “Hakeem’s case is about a football player, it’s about a human-rights defender, it’s about a refugee and it’s about global sport’s ability to uphold its stated commitment to human rights,” said Mr. Schwab, executive director of the World Players Association. FIFA officials, as well as members of the International Olympic Committee, also vocalized their support for al-Araibi.
The Australian government applied pressure on Thailand as well. Even though Thailand claims that they were acting on an INTERPOL Red Notice, Australia denies having tipped off Thai authorities to the red notice. Thailand’s Foreign Minister has stood firm, stating that they “would not have become involved in the issue had we not received the red notice alert from the Australian Interpol.” In spite of this diplomatic tit-for-tat, Australia has continuously lobbied on al-Araibi’s behalf. Upon al-Araibi’s release, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised the outcome, as well as al-Araibi’s imminent return to Australia.
Al-Araibi has since returned to Australia. Although Interpol has removed the red notice against him due to his refugee status, al-Araibi’s conviction still stands under Bahraini law. Yet with the red notice removed, it will prove incredibly difficult for Bahrain to detain al-Araibi, regardless of the recent negative press against the country. Instead, human rights law – supported by diplomatic pressure – has ensured Hakeem al-Araibi’s safe return home.