Araibi case: own goals all round

The contention that Thailand would not have been involved in the controversial case of Hakeem al-Araibi had it not received a red alert notice from Australian Interpol sounded ridiculous when I first heard it. Why would Australia issue an arrest warrant for a person it had granted asylum to?

There must have been a paperwork mistake or something lost in translation, I thought. Indeed there was, the Australian government has conceded. Now all sides, but especially Thailand, are trying to find a face-saving way out.

"Australia never issued a red notice against Araibi," said a statement issued by the Australian Embassy in Bangkok last week.

The red notice was issued by Bahrain on Nov 8, it said, shortly before Araibi travelled to Bangkok. "The red notice should never have been issued because of Araibi's status as a protected refugee. This was a breach of Interpol regulations."

That is little consolation to the young Bahraini footballer who came to the Land of Smiles for a honeymoon and now finds himself sitting in jail, where he could remain until August -- except for occasional trips in shackles to court -- while his fate is decided.

Meanwhile, authorities in Bahrain continue to press for his return to serve a 10-year sentence passed in 2014 for vandalising a police station during the 2011 Arab Spring protests. Araibi has steadfastly denied the charge, noting the offence took place just 30 minutes after the end of a televised football match in which he played. He fled to Australia in 2014 and was granted political asylum in 2017.

The former Bahrain national team player claims he became a target of political persecution because of his brother's activism and due to his own criticism of a member of Bahrain's royal family.

The Australian embassy noted that the government of Bahrain "knew very well" that Araibi had lived in Australia since 2014, but in four years it never requested he be sent back to Bahrain. It was only when Bahrain learned of his plan to travel to Thailand that the wheels for extradition were set in motion by the regime in Manama. Now, Australia says, Thailand has been placed "in a very difficult position".

Araibi was detained in Thailand on Nov 27. The Australian government said it was not "initially aware" of the extradition request, and moved to lift the improperly issued red notice.

The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said "it took several days" after Araibi arrived before Australian authorities informed Thailand that the improperly issued red notice had been cancelled. But by then it was too late. The case has now moved into the legal system.

Thailand is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not recognise refugees' rights, but it needs to adhere to the Extradition Act 2008. The Kingdom is now "in the middle of a case involving two countries competing for Mr Hakeem's custody", the ministry says.

Yes, we are indeed in a pickle. The suggestion from the Thai government for Australia and Bahrain to talk to each other and find a mutually agreeable solution is brilliant because it puts the issue back in the hands of the conflicting parties. But why can't we grant him bail if this case is clearly a misunderstanding?

According to Interpol regulations, Bahrain should not have been able to issue the arrest warrant in the first place, and the miscommunication between Thailand and Australia that led to his arrest is also something that should not have happened.

One couple's life has changed dramatically from having one of the best times of their life to one of them being incarcerated. A footballer who was supposed to be wearing studs is now wearing shackles, and for what? Why do we have to wait until August before the court decides on the extradition request from Bahrain, when the warrant was clearly against procedure?

Araibi's lawyer vowed last Thursday to submit a new bail request, with option for her client to wear an electric monitoring device; I hope it receives fair consideration.

Such a move would not be seen as provoking Bahrain, as Thailand will still decide on the extradition request. It will make Australia less angry as Araibi will at least be out of jail, and the international community can get off Thailand's back and put the pressure on Bahrain where it belongs.


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