Bahraini refugee soccer player arrested in Thailand while trying to fly back to Australia

  • Hakeem al-Araibi is wanted in Bahrain for vandalism he says happened while he was playing in a televised football match
  • He has lived in Australia since 2015 and has permanent residency, but was stopped at Bangkok airport because of Interpol notice requested by Bahrain
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2018, 8:54pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2018, 9:34pm

A refugee football player who was hoping to return to Australia over the weekend after being arrested in Thailand has been put into detention instead and is facing deportation to the country he fled from.

Hakeem al-Araibi was arrested at Bangkok airport last week on an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain’s request.

The 25-year-old told SBS News on Sunday that Thai authorities “discreetly” ordered him to book a flight out of the country.

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He booked a flight to Melbourne leaving on Saturday at 9pm. But three hours before the flight was told he would not be flying to Australia and was taken to Bangkok’s immigration detention centre.

Araibi’s lawyer, Latifa al-Haouli, said authorities from the Bahraini government and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs were “pleading their cases”.

The Bahraini embassy in Thailand issued statements on Twitter on Sunday saying it was “following up with the relevant security authorities” and “the suspect is wanted for security cases”.

Last week Araibi said he was arrested on an Interpol red notice for a vandalism conviction in Bahrain which he denies, claiming he was playing in a televised football game at the time.

Since 2015 Interpol has said it would not allow red notices against confirmed refugees and asylum seekers from the countries they fled from.

Interpol has violated its obligations, as Hakeem holds refugee status and returning him to Bahrain puts him at significant risk
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei

“When I arrived at immigration in Thailand they took me to detention and said you have a red notice from Bahrain,” he said. “I told them I am a refugee in Australia. I said [Bahrain] is not allowed to take me.”

Araibi arrived in Australia in 2015 and was granted refugee status and permanent residency three years later.

A former member of Bahrain’s national football team, he has previously described being tortured and beaten by authorities who accused him and other players of setting fire to a police station and sentenced him to 10 years in jail.

They say they were targeted for their involvement in anti-government protests in 2011.

al-Araibi now plays for a Melbourne team.

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He has publicly criticised Sheikh Salman Alkhalifa, cousin of Bahrain’s king and president of the Asian Football Confederation.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said: “Interpol has violated its obligations, as Hakeem holds refugee status and returning him to Bahrain puts him at significant risk of torture and imprisonment.”