HRW: Thailand Must Release Hakeem Al-Araibi

2019-01-30 - 10:02 م

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Thailand's government should immediately release the refugee football player Hakeem Al-Araibi and let him return to his wife and team in Australia, Human Rights Watch said yesterday in announcing a campaign for his freedom.

Human Rights Watch opened a #SaveHakeem digital campaign encouraging concerned athletes and people around the world to write directly to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha of Thailand.

"The footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi is a recognized refugee yet Thailand seems to be planning to forcibly return him to Bahrain, where he faces torture or worse," said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives. "Many athletes, the Australian government, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee have all demanded his freedom, and Thailand should permit his immediate return to his wife and teammates in Australia."

Al-Araibi has told Human Rights Watch that: "Bahrain is a state that has no human rights. My life is in danger. FIFA should protect me and all players."

He was first arrested in Bahrain in 2012, and says he was tortured while in detention, allegedly for his brother's political activities. In 2014, he was unjustly convicted of vandalizing a police station. At the time of the supposed crime, al-Araibi was playing in a televised football match. He was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison and later in 2014 fled to Australia.

Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the widespread torture and ill-treatment of detained activists and dissidents by Bahraini security forces since the 2011 anti-government protests.

Al-Araibi has also expressed criticism of the current Bahraini president of the Asian Football Confederation, Sheikh Salman Al-Khalifa, who is FIFA Vice President and a member of Bahrain's ruling family. Al-Araibi has alleged that Sheikh Salman failed to stop the persecution and torture of Bahraini athletes who joined the country's 2011 protests.

"Sheikh Salman's senior position within both FIFA and the Bahraini ruling family makes him well-positioned to stop the extradition," Worden said. "If he cares about his status in Asian football, he should be pressing Thailand to free Hakeem."

Al-Araibi, speaking to Human Rights Watch from a Thai detention center on December 6, said, "I want to tell [FIFA] President [Gianni] Infantino that he has the power to save my life - and I am asking him to help."

"Thailand has said it is interested in hosting the 2034 World Cup," Worden said. "According to FIFA's new bidding requirements, all host countries must report on their human rights climate - and sending a football player to a situation where he faces a real risk of torture would certainly be a black mark on Thailand's record."

The Bahraini government has accelerated the deportation process of Al-Araibi to Bahrain, following the extensive support campaign his case witnessed, especially with the actions of former Australian coach Craig Foster on international level to save him.

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