A dubious detention

Araibi is under a 12-day detention notice but could be forcibly returned to Bahrain even before that period expires. (Photo via GoFundMe)

The Police Immigration Bureau has placed Thailand in a dicey situation. On Nov 27, officers at Suvarnabhumi airport detained Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali al-Araibi. He is the subject of an Interpol Red Notice -- hold for possible deportation.

The problem is that Araibi is a legal refugee in Australia who is wanted in Bahrain, where he was persecuted and tortured for his political views about the monarchy of that country.

Placing Araibi in the Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) has placed Thailand and the Immigration Bureau (IB) against the government of Australia and a quite active, international human rights network calling for his release and return to Australia.

IB commander Pol Lt Gen Surachate "Big Joke" Hakparn says correctly the detention is not just legal but conforms in all ways to international norms. The Australian government and human rights defenders say correctly that if Araibi is returned to Bahrain, he will be abused, persecuted and even more likely placed in danger for his life.

There is a second part of this sad story which will place Thailand in an especially bad light if it sends Araibi back to Bahrain. The Bahraini is travelling on Australian documents, issued routinely to those awaiting final granting of citizenship. Before leaving for Thailand, Araibi says he visited the Thai consulate in Melbourne to specifically inquire about his safety in Thailand. He says he was assured by consulate staff there would be no problems despite the Interpol notice requesting his detention.

Australia has moved Araibi's case to a priority status. Canberra has given Araibi permission to remain as a political refugee because of his credible claim that the Bahrain government wants to harm him again. He is a professional football player with a club in Victoria state.

Acting ambassador Paul Stephens met with Pol Lt Gen Surachate on Monday to demonstrate his country's concern. According to Lt Gen Surachate, he was unyielding, explaining only that the IB was "strictly following the law".

Despite the claims of Pol Lt Gen Surachate, the Araibi case is almost completely opaque. On the day of his detention at Suvarnabhumi, he was first told he was only being denied entry. With the help of the Australian embassy, he booked a flight back to Melbourne but then suddenly was handcuffed and removed to the IDC on Soi Suan Plu, Sathon Road. The usually voluble Pol Lt Gen Surachate refuses to state whether the Bahrain embassy intervened directly.

It would be devastating to Thailand's international reputation if Araibi is forcibly deported or extradited to Bahrain without legal appeal. Thailand has no extradition treaty with Bahrain, and Thai law clearly allows appeals in court. If the Police Immigration Bureau were to take this law into its own hands, it would blacken the country's image, and Pol Lt Gen Surachate would be held responsible.

Interpol notices are not legally binding, but simply indicate a request from one country to all others for help with alleged fugitives. Everyone knows the effect of Interpol notices in the attempts to detain ex-premiers Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Interpol Red Notice to request the detention of the accused hit-run Ferrari driver Vorayudh Yoovidhaya of the Red Bull family also was ignored.

The Bahrain court sentenced frequent government critic Araibi to a 10-year jail term, in absentia, on charges of vandalism at a police station. He says credibly he also was long persecuted, shackled and tortured because of his Shia faith in a Sunni-ruled country. In addition, his brother is politically active in Bahrain.

The circumstances of his alleged crime, along with the support of the Australian government and human rights campaigners, militate in Araibi's favour. He deserves to be sent back to Australia. Otherwise, the IB must allow him his legal right to an extradition process in court.

Any other decision will make it seem Pol Lt Gen Surachate was the agent of an attempt to merely curry favour with an undemocratic Middle Eastern government.

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