By The Nation
Thai authorities were granted a reprieve on Monday after Bahrain withdrew its request for the extradition of Hakeem al-Araibi. The UN-recognised refugee was promptly set free to return home to Australia, where he was granted residence in 2017.
It should be noted that al-Araibi was granted his freedom not because of Thai policy, but as a result of a deal brokered by Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai during his trip to Bahrain over the weekend.
The deal brought an end to a
six-week saga that focused global attention on Thailand’s badly
outdated refugee policy, which is in urgent need of reform.
The Bahrain footballer wasn’t the first asylum seeker to fall victim to Thai injustice and he won’t be the last.
On Monday Al-Araibi, 25, rejoined his wife for the first time since he was arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport on November 27. They had landed in Bangkok for a honeymoon trip when al-Araibi was detained in response to a red notice issued by Interpol in Australia. Interpol quickly rescinded the notice, which violated its rules regarding refugees and asylum-seekers.
Bahrain had made the extradition request after finding al-Araibi guilty of helping to torch a police station in 2012 during the Arab Spring uprising, sentencing him in absentia to 10 years in jail.
Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged the dropping of the extradition case by the Thai criminal court, but said the jail sentence remained in place. Al-Araibi had fled to Australia in 2014, claiming he had been tortured in Bahrain when he was arrested two years earlier.
Australia granted him political asylum in 2017 and he began earning his living as a player for Pasco Vale, a semi-professional football club in Melbourne.
Al-Araibi has permanent residency in Australia and has lived there for five years. His arrest and detention by Thai authorities severely strained diplomatic ties between Bangkok and Canberra, which has been at the forefront of calls for his immediate release since the case made global headlines. Australia argued that, as a refugee granted permanent asylum and safety to visit anywhere except for Bahrain, al-Araibi should never have been arrested in the first place.
Bangkok countered by pointing out that Australia had flagged up the Interpol red notice which had alerted Bahrain and led to its extradition request to Thailand. By the time the notice was withdrawn, extradition proceedings had already begun and the case was subject to judicial due process, said the Thai side.
That argument became less convincing after Monday’s withdrawal of the case, which proved that political decisions took precedent over legal process in this case.
Foreign Minister Don was frank in his assessment that Thailand had been caught in the middle of a conflict between Bahrain and Australia and had nothing to gain from detaining al-Araibi.
But Thai authorities need to recognise that other such dilemmas will inevitably arise again, because of their lack of solid principles and good
practice in dealing with asylum seekers and refugees. That lack leaves the country susceptible to pressure from foreign powers whenever their political dissidents cross into Thai territory.
Bangkok has failed to learn from experience that its refugee policy must be founded on humanitarian principles. Investigation and background checks are required before throwing “wanted” refugees in jail and prosecuting them.
Al-Araibi’s botched prosecution is hardly an unusual case in our country. Thailand could save both itself and legitimate political asylum seekers a lot of trouble by adopting a clear line and best practices on refugees.