#HakeemHome – But Questions Remain

Hakeem Al-Araibi is ‘home,’ after Thailand’s foreign ministry requested that the extradition case against the 25-year-old ex-Bahraini international be dropped.

Bahrain “no longer wants to pursue the extradition” though its foreign ministry gracelessly re-iterated that Al-Araibi’s “guilty verdict… remains in place” and “reaffirmed its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against (him).” Speculation has linked the decision to Sunday’s visit of Thailand’s foreign minister, Dan Pramuchwinda, to Bahrain crown prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa to “review areas of mutual interest” and “new avenues for co-operation.” And it was reportedly made under Thai legislation covering cases dropped “if they are not in the public interest.”

The precise whys and wherefores have yet to emerge. But the saga could not have garnered more global attention than Thai police afforded it last Monday, when an unkempt, barefoot shackled Al-Araibi shuffled into Ratchadaphisek criminal court (if ‘Donald Trump adviser’ Roger Stone thinks his recent public treatment by FBI agents was harrowing, he can sod off).

BBC South-East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head said on-camera: “The legal grounds for holding and extraditing Al-Araibi are so flawed and the outrage in international football growing only louder that you have to wonder why Thailand is persisting with this case. Relations between the monarchies of Thailand and Bahrain are traditionally very close, But surely that’s outweighed by the damage to Thailand’s international image. For a football-mad country like Thailand, this is embarrassing,”

For the Thai authorities to so happily let such images flash across the globe suggested embarrassment was beyond them, that they were tone deaf to the outrage the images caused, or plain didn’t care. But whatever changed Thailand’s tune, campaigners can be proud of their efforts, while every protagonist legal, governmental and football authority can be ashamed of theirs.

The #SaveHakeem campaign was recognisably led by ex-Aussie captain and broadcaster Craig Foster. Or, as Sky Sports slightly desperately labelled him, the “ex-Crystal Palace star” (he played over 50 times for them from 1998-2000). In the Observer on 3rd February, he advocated sweeping sporting sanctions against Bahrain and Thailand, urging action from Fifa president Gianni Infantino and International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach.

“The contemptuousness with which Bahrain has treated international sport throughout this politically-motivated, retributive case,” Foster wrote. “Membership of the international sporting community should be in immediate endangerment” for nations not fulfilling “the basic obligation to respect humanitarian values and to treat participants, of all people, with the utmost care and respect.”

And Infantino and Bach “will be defined by their response. Either they will override all political and economic considerations and consider the suspension of both nations, or,” he concluded melodramatically, “the new reality of world sport will cost a young man’s freedom and rights.”

A Bangkok Post editorial, the day before Foster’s Observer piece (“Overlooking Araibi’s Rights”) was as powerfully-articulate, unsurprisingly, given the English-language daily broadsheet’s reputation for criticising Thailand’s military rulers. It said Thailand “would rather entertain Bahrain’s request than follow international principles on refugee treatment.”

It wondered if they had “cross-examined” Bahraini “evidence” (their inverted commas), and “overlooked Bahrain’s harsh repression record against political dissidents.” And it concluded: “(Araibi) is not a criminal, but a victim of political suppression. Thailand may have also suppressed its own political activists. However, as it moves towards civilian rule, it (can) prove to the world that it is committed to international standards on refugee treatment and not to pleasing a ruthless regime.”

Individuals ranging from ex-Leicester striker Gary Lineker to soon-to-be-ex-Leicester striker Jamie Vardy combined with football’s grassroots to gather campaign momentum throughout Al-Araibi’s 77-day detention, largely unaided by football’s authorities, who have a national curriculum’s worth of lessons to learn and no ‘positives’ to take from it.
Fifa’s head of sustainability and diversity, Federico Addiechi offered a blueprint for inaction, after last Monday’s court hearing, which he attended as Fifa’s ‘support’ for Al-Araibi. Addiechi said Fifa had “made overtures” to “two or three” FAs but that “the problem is elsewhere.” And he claimed Fifa had “no legal grounds to enact sanctions called for by advocates.” This was Thai-style disingenuousness. A conflation of governmental and sporting sanctions. And complete bollo*ks. Advocates had called for sanctions well within Fifa’s scope. Fifa failed , and for weeks refused, to deliver.

The FFA were trailblazers in football-blazers’ indifference, largely doing FFA until the moral pressure on them impinged upon the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) ambitions of its chair, Chris Nikou, who is seeking an Executive Committee seat in April’s elections.

And AFC chief, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, said less than his own full name in support of Al-Araibi. He actively wanted Al-Araibi imprisoned for criticising him in a February 2016 New York Times article (“Bahrain want me back because I talked…about how Sheikh Salman is a very bad man,” Al-Araibi noted in delightfully simplistic terms last month). And he wanted more Bahraini footballers imprisoned for pro-democracy protesting in 2011/12.
It would thus have been rank hypocrisy for Asia’s football president TO campaign against an illegal detention of an Asian player which he arguably instigated. Of course, if fulfilling this statutory obligation as AFC president IS rank hypocrisy, you should not BE AFC president. Fifa statutorily insists that football and national governmental politics must not mix. But, hey…

Al-Araibi’s detention was, of course, politics. On top of all else, he is a Shia Muslim, while Bahrain’s ruling royals are Sunni. And however sorry football’s authorities have been, governmental and legal authorities are the real culprits
Al-Araibi faced extradition because he fled Bahrain in 2014, after learning that, while in Qatar with the national team, he’d been sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. He was initially arrested and charged with “participation in terrorism, an arson attack, possession of inflammable bombs and damaging public and private property.” This amounted to “vandalising a police station” on 3rd November 2012. And, he consistently insists, he was tortured before his release on bail.

Why he was convicted/sentenced “in absentia” isn’t clear (his brother, Emad, wasn’t absentia and is serving ten years). Bahrain’s Interior Minister, General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, said last month, in Bahrain’s only public statement on Al-Araibi, that his “release on bail…to accompany the Bahraini team to Qatar” discredited “those who question the integrity of Bahrain’s courts.”

He had an alibi, his participation in a televised match which left him on a football field, 20 kilometres away, 45 minutes, less stoppage-time and changing-room necessities, before, prosecutors alleged, the vandalism occurred. This made it “physically impossible” for him to be at the ‘crime scene’ when claimed, even with a turbo-charged getaway car waiting by the touchline. And impossible, without time-travel capabilities, to have “met his accomplices…to plan the attack,” two hours earlier, as prosecutors also alleged.

This was entirely verifiable evidence. Match video has since emerged. So the broadcasters could have supplied it to a court interested in verifying it, as a recent Bangkok Post editorial noted: “(It) should have at least been verified by locating the video footage” before Thailand OK’d Al-Araibi’s extradition process. Instead, the court said it didn’t “need to respond to the evidence presented by the defence” because it was “sufficient to take the evidence that was conclusive in showing that they committed the crime,” a legal principle from the “Crown-versus-Captain-Edmund-Blackadder-the-Flanders-Pigeon-Murderer” school of justice.

Last Wednesday, Thailand’s foreign ministry attempted to justify their treatment of Al-Araibi, via a press release “on the Australian-Bahraini issue concerning Mr Hakeem Al-Araibi,” which combined the industrial-scale buck-passing of the title with ‘dog-ate-my-homework’ disingenuousness and outright bullshit.

On 4th November, Al-Araibi applied to Melbourne’s Royal Thai Embassy for a visa to enter Thailand. This was ‘ready for collection’ four days later, the day Interpol granted Bahrain’s request for a ‘red notice’ (an international arrest warrant application) against Al-Araibi, breaching THEIR policy of not issuing red notices to countries from which refugees fled. Thailand arrested him immediately on arrival at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on 27th November, solely because of the notice, and ‘explained’ it thus (statement in bold):

Thailand had previously not been aware of Mr. Hakeem’s case and does not have any prejudice against him. Indeed, we would not have become involved had we not received the red notice alert from Australian Interpol and the subsequent formal request by Bahrain for his arrest and extradition.

Al-Araibi’s immediate arrest exposed Thailand’s “previous awareness.” The notice was issued 19 days beforehand. Its validity would have crumbled under 19 minutes sincere scrutiny. Yet he remained detained when Bahrain’s “formal request” arrived. On 30th November, Al-Araibi was told to prepare to fly to Melbourne. Three hours before his due departure, he was transferred to an Immigration Detention Centre. This three-day gap from Al-Araibi’s ‘red notice’ arrest to Bahrain’s arrest request facilitated further legal proceedings.

Why did Bahrain seek the notice only last November? Al-Araibi arrived in Australia since 2014, with formal refugee status since 2017. And, Australia’s next Thai Ambassador Allan McKinnon noted on Tuesday: “During these four years, Bahrain did not attempt to ask Australia about Hakeem at all or request to send him back to Bahrain.” Yet they did so the very day he obtained permission to leave Australia for the first time.

Australia and Thailand knew Al-Araibi planned to travel. But only Thailand knew his specific travel plans on 8th November. So, unless the simultaneous issue of visa and red notice was paranormally co-incidental, Bahrain almost certainly acted on Thai information. And, remember, a red notice is merely an arrest warrant application. So, Thailand need not “have become involved in the issue.” They chose to.

It took several days after the arrival of Mr. Hakeem, before the Australian authorities informed us that the red notice had been cancelled. By that time, legal proceedings in Thailand regarding Mr. Hakeem had already started and could not be reversed.

Disingenuous as f**k. The notice was “cancelled” on 30th November, although this wasn’t reported publicly until 4th December. But Thailand didn’t need telling. The notice was never valid. The “several days” are irrelevant. “Legal proceedings…had already started” because THAILAND gave Bahrain those “several days” to start them. Thai Immigration Police commander, Lieutenant General Surachet Hakpan admitted: “Al-Araibi( will be held until 4th December” specifically to let Bahrain instigate them.

The case is now under the purview of the Court of Justice. The Executive Branch cannot interfere with the judicial process, an internationally-recognised principle upheld by all countries, including Australia.

If you think executive branches should interfere with judiciaries, think Donald Trump. But Australia’s Foreign Affairs ministry said on Tuesday: “Thailand’s Attorney-General’s office (OAG) has publicly confirmed that Thailand’s Extradition Act allows executive discretion in such cases. This was confirmed by the prosecutor in the context of yesterday’s hearing.” The Guardian Australia newspaper’s Helen Davidson reported: “Thailand’s Attorney-General could return Al-Araibi to Australia at any point.” And OAG director Chatcham Akapin told the Bangkok Post newspaper that Thailand could have refused the extradition request “based on considerations of international relations.”

The latter is likely what happened.

We ask that everyone refrain from prejudging the Court’s rulings and prematurely jumping to the conclusion that Thailand will extradite Mr. Hakeem. The Court will consider this case thoroughly and in accordance with the due process of law and the evidence provided, including Bahrain’s arrest warrant and court order for Mr. Hakeem, who had been convicted under Bahraini laws.

Well…you could have asked. But “everyone” wasn’t PRE-judging. Thailand has well-documented ‘previous’ for such extraditions. Human Rights Watch director Minky Warden told Guardian Australia on 6th December: “Thailand has long failed to respect the legally-binding principle of ‘non-refoulement,’ where states are prohibited from returning an individual to a country to face torture or other serious human rights violations.”

Their treatment of Al-Araibi garnered zero faith in their adherence to “due processes of law.” And the very reference to Al-Araibi’s conviction implied unquestioning acceptance, despite it being “widely discredited” (although “widely discredited” has no formal legal status). There were many ‘jumps’ to conclusions about Al-Araibi’s fate under Thai ‘justice.’ Mercifully, they were “premature.”

Bahrain has provided us with all relevant documents. The OAG has considered those documents and found that they meet the legal conditions to be filed to the Court. The OAG has filed the extradition request with the Court of Justice for the latter’s consideration. The Thai Court is ready to consider all facts and evidence presented to it by Mr. Hakeem’s lawyers.

It’s hypothetical now. But what would the Court of Justice have considered? The legitimacy of Bahrain’s paperwork, or the actual case? Bahrain says Al-Araibi can “challenge the proceedings in the Court of Appeals, then in the Cassation Court,” Bahrain’s “highest court.” EXACTLY why Al-Araibi fled. Were Thai courts claiming power to over-ride Bahrain’s? Seems as likely as Bahrain applying justice to an extradited Al-Araibi.

Thailand does not gain anything from holding Mr Hakeem in custody. But as a sovereign country with legal obligations and commitments to the international community, Thailand finds itself in the middle of a case involving two countries competing for Mr. Hakeem’s custody.

The nation may have gained nothing. But individual Thai and Bahraini royals had considerable business dealings (“local news reported tax deals and large-scale property developments” – Davidson, Guardian Australia, 9th January) explaining Thailand’s proactive doing of Bahrain’s bidding. And the idea that Thailand “found itself in the middle” of this case is risible. Since detaining Al-Araibi, solely on the basis of a red notice which breached its “legal obligations and commitments to the international community,” Thailand PLACED itself pretty f**king far from the “middle.”

Thailand has no other legitimate option but to cooperate in accordance with the law…

Seems they had…

…and suggest that the two countries, good friends of Thailand and with one another, talk to each other to sort out their problems and come up with their own solution, instead of trying to find an indirect solution from Thailand, who has only become involved in this case by chance.

By chance. BY. CHANCE.

We believe we have a legitimate right to urge them to find a mutually agreeable solution. No matter what that solution may be, Thailand stands ready to support it to achieve a result that is mutually satisfactory (win-win). Thailand hopes that Australia and Bahrain will have the goodwill to earnestly work together towards a win-win solution. In that way, those following this case will praise both Australia and Bahrain for their efforts.

Pass that buck. Thailand stood “ready to support” a “win-win” for Bahrain. But the concept of “mutually satisfactory” compromise between justice and the transparent miscarriage thereof was preposterous. And maybe that, at last, dawned on Thailand.

Indeed, the entire statement is preposterous, only outdone by the Thai corrections department’s director-general, Police Colonel Narat Sawatanan, who claimed Al-Araibi’s legs were shackled because “it is our duty to prevent (prisoners) from fleeing.” Oh…and the, ahem, ‘accessories’ on his legs were not even “shackles” anyway as they could be locked and unlocked.  So that’s…fine.

Meanwhile, the focus on Bahrain and Thailand has distracted from Australia’s role…without which none of this would have happened. As Davidson reported last Tuesday that while campaigners were “concentrating on getting Al-Araibi released, they would seek accountability when the ordeal was over.”

Australia’s current Thai ambassador, Paul Stephens got in a pre-emptive strike last Thursday, with a Thai-type statement on the “Interpol Red Notice issued against Hakeem Al-Araibi,” which mainly revealed that Australian and Thailand use the same disingenuousness consultancy firm.

Stephens blamed “misreporting” for “confusion” about the notice. “Australia never issued” a notice. It was “issued by Bahrain on 8th November, shortly before Mr Araibi travelled.” Australia “was not aware” that the notice “breached Interpol’s regulations” as he was “a protected refugee.” Thus, “in line with Interpol procedure” they “notified Thailand of his travel.” And when they “became aware” they “ensured” that the notice “was rescinded as soon as possible.” All tickety-boo, except “shortly before” was NINETEEN days, and “as soon as possible” TWENTY-TWO days after the notice’s issue.

Interpol’s Australian bureau, staffed by Australia’s Federal Police (AFP) thus had ample time to learn AND enforce their rules before Al-Araibi travelled. One clue as to why they didn’t came on 11th December, when Guardian Australia asked who had enforcement responsibility, and things went Chuckle Brothers (“to me…to you”) with the Home Affairs department directing them to the Foreign Affairs department, who directed them…back again.

Home Affairs eventually confirmed that Aussie Interpol alerted Thailand to the arrival of a red-noticed individual. But they did not explain why they ‘forgot’ Al-Araibi was a Bahraini refugee.  “Any action taken” on the red notice “is a matter for Thai authorities,” they noted, passing the buck and missing the point.

HRW Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson summarised things best: “I don’t understand why the AFP would inform Thailand that a refugee was travelling on a red notice, especially when that red notice was from Bahrain, the country he fled from. Whoever handled this should have looked at his case, figured out he was a refugee, and that this notice was a mistake. Why didn’t the AFP think, if he was subject to a red notice, why haven’t we arrested him in Australia?”

And… why did Australian authorities assure Al-Araibi it was safe to travel to Thailand. Guardian Australia reported that Al-Araibi “called the immigration authorities to check” this and “was given multiple assurances he was protected.” Thus assured, he told his sister in Bahrain “I am under Australia’s protection, they will not let anything happen to me,” when she mentioned the travel risks.

Australia is “reviewing our procedures so that this does not happen again.” Heads should roll.

Enough grim realpolitik has been exposed to quell any comfort over Al-Araibi’s short-to-medium-term future. Salman will be re-elected Asian Confederation president, and Fifa vice-president, unopposed. And  football’s authorities failed the first test of their recent commitments to human rights. In this regard, Fifa is still the Fifa of Blatter and Warner. Legally and morally bankrupt.

The campaigners, and genuine football people worldwide deserve so much better.

Still. Hakeem Al-Araibi is home. Good fortune to him. And well done everybody who brought him back there.