Thursday, October 01, 2020

Thailand scores own-goal over refugee footballer

Feb 05. 2019
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By The Nation

Primitive treatment of al-Araibi highlights serious decline in Kingdom’s refugee policy

A refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political 

opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

So says the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, enshrining a core principle to protect people like Hakeem al-Araibi, the Bahraini refugee and Australian resident whose extradition from Thailand could place him in 

mortal danger.

Al-Araibi was arrested during a trip to Thailand in November following a Bahraini extradition request over his alleged role in vandalising a police 

station.

Bahraini authorities sentenced him in absentia to 10 years in jail in 2014. The footballer, a former member of Bahrain’s national team, denies the accusation, pointing out he was playing a televised match at the time of the alleged crime.

Al-Araibi fled to Australia after hearing of his sentence, claiming he had been tortured in Bahrain when he was arrested two years earlier over his brother’s activism during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

Australia granted him political asylum in 2017 and he began his career as a professional footballer for Pasco Vale, a Melbourne-based club.

Thai authorities arrested al-Araibi in response to an Interpol red notice, yet Australia said it had received no extradition request from Bahrain for the footballer since he had sought and received residency.

It is not hard to see why Bahrain chose to put Thailand in the difficult position of detaining al-Araibi at a busy time of domestic difficulties as well as the important international duty of chairing Asean.

While Thailand is not a party to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, it once held a strong reputation for granting protection and providing assistance to hundreds of thousands fleeing trouble in neighbouring countries. Many of these people still live in Thailand, while others have grasped opportunities to settle in third countries including Australia. 

However, that reputation has eroded badly in recent years as Thai authorities granted extradition requests with little if any consideration of asylum-seekers’ safety. Typical was the recent case of Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who was detained by Thai Immigration acting without the legitimacy of a formal request from Riyadh.

International rules and norms make clear that no country should send back an asylum-seeker to possible punishment over politically motivated charges. An extradition request should be rejected immediately if it is politically motivated.

As al-Araibi’s case has already gone to court, he has the right to a fair trial.

However, the court on Monday agreed his defence could file a petition against the extradition by April 5, but denied him bail, meaning he will be in jail for at least another month. An arraignment date was set for April 22, when a witness list and trial date will be confirmed.

Like other immigration cases in Thailand, al-Araibi appeared in chains and shackles at his court appearance. Thai authorities should review this practice of prosecuting asylum seekers as if they were criminals.

Photos of al-Araibi exiting the prison bus barefoot with his feet shackled were circulated around the world, spreading a picture of a primitive legal system with low standards of justice. Al-Araibi is not on trial over criminal charges. The proceedings he faces in Thailand concern extradition only. A business suit and briefcase would be far more appropriate attire than the chains and prison garb he was forced to wear. The garb was humiliating for al-Araibi but also a shameful stain on Thailand’s reputation.  

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