“We are very concerned,” says Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs about detained footballer

Senator Marise Payne, the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said at a press conference this afternoon that Australia is concerned about the detention and possible extradition of Hakeem al-Araibi by the Thai authorities and that Australia is working with the relevant agencies on the cases of both Mr al-Araibi and Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun.

Hakeem al-Araibi (left) and Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (right)

The press conference, held at the Embassy of Australia in Bangkok at 14:15 on 10 January 2019, is part of a planned visit in which Senator Payne met with Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Don Pramudwinai and Deputy Prime Minister ACM Prajin Juntong to sign an MOU on cyber security and digital cooperation. She also discussed Thailand’s 2019 chairmanship of ASEAN.

Senator Payne also said that she had the opportunity to “raise Australia’s concerns” with the Thai government about the detention of Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who has been given refugee status by the UN and was granted permanent residence by the Australian government. Senator Payne said that Australia is “very concerned about any potential for the return of Mr al-Araibi to Bahrain.” Acting on a disputed Interpol red notice issued by Bahrain, the Thai authorities arrested Mr al-Araibi while he was traveling with his family. He has now been in detention for over 40 days and is faced with possible deportation to Bahrain, where he will most likely face imprisonment and suffer serious human rights violations. Senator Payne said that Mr al-Araibi has been visited by embassy officials on several occasions, and that Australia will “continue to be in very close contact” with the Thai authorities on Mr al-Araibi’s case.

She also “acknowledged the constructive way” in which Thailand has referred 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun to the UNHCR. Ms Mohammed al-Qunun has been given refugee status by the UNHCR, following an international social media campaign and appeals from human rights groups to stop the Thai authorities from deporting her back to Saudi Arabia, from where she had fled domestic abuse and prosecution for renouncing Islam. Senator Payne said that the UNHCR has referred Rahaf’s case to the Australian authorities, and that the required assessment process is now underway. However, she declined to comment on whether Australia had cancelled Rahaf’s visitor visa while she was detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport. She also gave no timeframe as to when Rahaf’s case will be settled, and did not say whether Rahaf will be traveling to Australia while she awaits a decision on her asylum claim.