Asia-Pacific

Bahrain 'requested Australia-based refugee's arrest'

0:00

A Thai official says the country's authorities were asked by Bahrain to arrest the refugee before his arrival in Bangkok.

The head of Thailand's immigration bureau says Bahrain requested the arrest of an Australia-based refugee prior to his arrival in Thailand, raising the prospect he was under surveillance.

In an interview with BBC Thai, Police Lieutenant General Surachet Hakparn has played down the importance of an Interpol red notice for the detention of Hakeem al-Araibi, 25, on November 27 at Suvarnabhumi airport.

Surachet said the main reason Araibi was arrested was because the Foreign Affairs Ministry requested the Immigration Department to do so prior to his arrival.

0:00
Fears Australian refugee footballer will be sent back to Bahrain
Fears Australian refugee footballer will be sent back to Bahrain

"The Bahraini government knew that he would be arriving in Thailand [on the 27th of November], so they coordinated with Thailand's permanent secretary of foreign affairs to detain him, pending documents sent from Bahrain," Surachet said.

When told of Surachet's claim, Araibi said he was "shocked and outraged".

"If I knew that they knew about this in advance, I wouldn't have travelled to Thailand," he told BBC Thai through an interpreter.

The Interpol red notice was eventually dropped, which Australian diplomats hoped would clear the way for Araibi's return to Melbourne, where he plays professional football.

Hakeem AlAraib, second from left, plays professional football for the Pascoe Vale team in Melbourne.
Hakeem AlAraib, second from left, plays professional football for the Pascoe Vale team in Melbourne.
SBS News

In 2015, Interpol banned red notices being issued against confirmed refugees and asylum-seekers.

Human Rights Watch said Interpol may not have been aware of Araibi's refugee status when Bahrain requested the red notice be issued.

Interpol headquarters in Lyon declined to comment on the red notice, saying the information "remains under the ownership of that member country".

A Thai court on Monday extended Araibi's detention for another 12 days on the basis that immigration was awaiting more documentation from Bahrain and Australia on Araibi's nationality and travel documents.

In 2014, Araibi was sentenced in absentia to 10 years' jail for vandalising a Bahrain police station.

0:00
Australian refugee footballer faces deportation after Thailand arrest
Australian refugee footballer faces deportation after Thailand arrest

A former member of the Bahraini national football team, he has also been a critic of Bahraini royal, Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Federation.

Araibi, who is being held at Thailand's Immigration Detention Centre with his wife, said it was his first trip outside Australia and he only intended a week's holiday in Thailand.

He repeated that he was "just a football player" who was not politically active and had no political affiliations.

He said he spoke out against Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa in 2015 and 2016 because the sheikh failed to support him when he was tortured and charged over the vandalising of the police station in 2012.

Araibi says he was playing in a televised football match when the station was attacked.

Araibi had been granted refugee travel documents by Australia for his trip to Thailand for a holiday with his wife
Araibi had been granted refugee travel documents by Australia for his trip to Thailand for a holiday with his wife.
SBS News

"This was the only time I spoke in a criticism of the ruling family, and Bahrain as a state," he said, adding that his older brother was serving a 10-year sentence in Bahrain's Jaw prison on the same charges.

Araibi said he was certain he would be tortured and killed if he was returned to Bahrain, as he had criticised the sheik during his failed candidacy for the presidency of FIFA, the governing body of world football.

He added he was now being treated better in Thai detention as a result of intervention by Australian diplomats.

"The treatment during the first four days was not really good at all. But then I called the Australian embassy and told them I wasn't treated well, I wasn't given food and so on, then the treatment significantly improved," he said.

Meanwhile, an extradition hearing in the Bangkok Criminal Court appears set to proceed.

A Foreign Affairs ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday the ministry had received legal documents from Bahrain which need to be forwarded to immigration before the case begins.

Human Rights Watch said a local lawyer had been hired to represent Araibi.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch