Yesterday (6 February 2019), the Football Federation Australia (FFA) issued a statement saying that it has cancelled a proposed trip to Thailand for the under-23 men’s national team, part of its preparation for the 2020 AFC U23 qualifiers in March.
Graham Arnold, Australian National Team and Under-23 Head Coach, said that the FFA will now move their pre-tournament camp to another Asian nation, and that the decision was made in response to Thailand’s ongoing detention of footballer and refugee Hakeem al-Araibi.
“Australia’s national teams are united in their support for Hakeem al-Araibi and we call on the community to continue to campaign for his release,” Arnold said.
Meanwhile, international support for Hakeem is intensifying. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment wrote a joint letter to the Foreign Minister of Thailand to raise concern on Hakeem’s case. The letter, which was sent on 7 December 2018, was made public on 5 February 2019 as per the 60-day procedure, and expresses “great alarm as this case appears to be in contravention to the principle of non-refoulement as set forth in article 3 of the Convention against Torture (CAT), signed by Thailand on 1 November 2007.”
The letter also asks the Thai government to “provide information on the legal grounds for the arrest and detention of the aforementioned individual and explain how these measures are compatible with international norms and standards, as stated, inter alia, in the UDHR and the ICCPR.” It also asked that “all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence and in the event that the investigations support or suggest the allegations to be correct, to ensure the accountability of any person responsible of the alleged violations.”
The Australian Embassy in Thailand also issued a statement on their Facebook page Australia in Thailand on 4 February 2019, which was also delivered at Hakeem’s hearing on Monday. The statement said that the Bahraini Government knew very well that Hakeem has been living in Australia since 2014, but never made contact with Australia or made an extradition request until he travelled to Thailand. The Australian Embassy acknowledges that “the actions of the Bahraini Government have put Thailand in a very difficult position…during what is an important year for the people and country of Thailand.”
“The Government of Australia would like Hakeem al-Araibi to be returned to Australia as soon as possible. He is a refugee and permanent resident of Australia,” said the statement. “Hakeem is a loved football player for Pascoe Vale FC and has football fans across the country. We hope that Hakeem will be able to go back to be with his family and his wife in the coming days.”
Thailand “become involved in this case by chance,” MFA statement claims
The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on 5 February 2019, saying that Thailand had not been previously aware of Hakeem’s case and does not gain anything from holding him in custody. The statement claims that Thailand “has no other legitimate option” but to cooperate in accordance with the law. Thailand would also like to suggest that Australia and Bahrain discuss the case and find a solution together.
MFA Deputy Permanent Secretary Thani Thongpakdi also said at the press briefing yesterday that the Thai authorities were only following protocol. The Australian Interpol alerted both Thailand and Bahrain about Hakeem’s red notice and his trip to Thailand, and Bahrain subsequently made a formal request for his provisional arrest, so the Thai authorities detained him. Despite the absence of a bilateral agreement between Thailand and Bahrain, the Bahraini authorities can still make an extradition request in accordance with the Extradition Act of 2008. The Thai authorities must consider such a request and may act based on the principle of reciprocity and cooperation.
Thani also said that the situation did not change when Interpol lifted Hakeem’s red notice a few days after his arrest, since the extradition process had already been activated when the Bahraini government made a formal request to Thailand and submitted the required documents. The formal request from Bahrain, said Thani, also constituted sufficient grounds for the Thai authorities to arrest Hakeem, with or without the Interpol red notice.
Thani claimed that Thailand no longer has the authority to release Hakeem. Since the case is now in court, no other branch of government can interfere with the judicial process, but once the court has reached a verdict, Hakeem and his attorneys have the right to appeal, and the executive branch may also interfere.
Hakeem has been in detention since his arrest on 27 November 2018. After appearing at his extradition hearing on 4 February, he will remain at Bangkok Remand Prison until the next scheduled hearing on 22 April. His attorneys now have until 5 April to file a written appeal.