Wife of detained Bahraini footballer begs world leaders for help
The wife of the Bahraini footballer and refugee Hakeem al-Araibi has written to leaders in Canada and New Zealand, telling them “time is running out” and pleading with them to help him return to Australia.
Al-Araibi, an Australian resident, has been detained in Thailand , where he had gone on honeymoon, for more than two months while Bahrain seeks his extradition.
He was arrested in Bangkok in November on a red notice wrongly issued to Bahrain by Interpol in contravention of its own refugee protection policies.
He faces a 10-year prison sentence in
Bahrain for a vandalism conviction that has been widely discredited.
His wife, who does not want to be named,
spent the first 10 days of his detention sharing a cell with him but has since had to return to Australia.
In a letter to the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, al-Araibi’s wife pleaded with him to put pressure on the Thai authorities to release him.
“Time is running out, and I am pleading desperately to you as a humanitarian, and someone who would not hesitate to stand with justice, please please help my husband,” she wrote, citing Canada’s swift offer of resettlement to the Saudi refugee
“His refugee status relates to his persecution in Bahrain. This in itself should be sufficient to showcase the inhumanity of extraditing him back to Bahrain, let alone the fact that it is illegal.”
Her plea came as the Asian Football Confederation, widely criticised for its failure to lobby on al-Araibi’s behalf, despite its Bahraini president and strong leverage with Thailand, finally called for the player’s release.
The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, wrote to his Thai counterpart to push for al-Araibi’s release for the first time last week, adding to pressure brought by Australia’s foreign affairs minister over the previous two months.
On Monday, Bahrain lodged its formal extradition application with a Thai court , a week ahead of its 8 February deadline.
In a separate letter to the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, al-Araibi’s wife described how their honeymoon turned into a nightmare.
“My husband is going through the hardest days of his life all these 60 days,” she wrote. In her letters to both the Canadian and New Zealand leaders, she said the “illegal refoulement” sought by Bahrain would put al-Araibi’s life “in certain danger of persecution, imprisonment and possible death”.
“I am terrified that the final decision to deport him will take place within the next few days.”
Multiple governments, human rights groups and world football bodies have lobbied for al-Araibi’s release. Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, has publicly and privately put pressure on Thailand to release him, including during a ministerial visit to the country, and again in public statements on Tuesday afternoon.
However, football bodies have been criticised for being slow to join the efforts, in particular the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and its Bahraini royal president, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa.
On Tuesday, 63 days after al-Araibi was first arrested and three days after the AFC suddenly announced that al-Khalifa had been recused from regional responsibilities 18 months ago, it pleaded directly with the Thai prime minister for his release.
The request for “immediate intervention” from the AFC vice president to allow al-Araibi’s return to Australia came after Bahrain lodged its extradition papers, setting a Thai court process in motion.
On Tuesday, Morrison’s office confirmed he wrote to Thailand’s prime minister, Prayuth Chan-o-cha, last week, to emphasise al-Araibi’s refugee status in Australia, and said that returning him to Bahrain would infringe on his human rights under international law.
There remain multiple questions about the role of Australian authorities in al-Araibi’s detention, including how the issuing of a red notice against someone to whom Australia had given refugee status went unnoticed. The Australian federal police is also facing questions after notifying Thailand of al-Araibi’s travel plans.
Al-Araibi has said he specifically asked Australian authorities if he was safe to travel to Thailand and was told he was.
On Monday, Bahrain’s interior minister, Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa,
defended his government’s pursuit of al-Araibi, saying concerns he would face torture and unjust imprisonment if he was returned were “false reports”.
“The external interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain is unacceptable,” he said. “Those raising unfounded doubts about the integrity and independence of the kingdom’s judicial system are not only interfering but also attempting to influence the course of justice.”
In response, human rights groups have pointed to multiple investigations and reports on the torture and mistreatment of prisoners and targeting of opposition figures by the Bahraini justice system.