FIFA supports campaign that led to withdrawal of Thai extradition case against refugee footballer at risk of false imprisonment in Bahrain

In November 2018, refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi was detained in Thailand during his honeymoon, after an Interpol red notice was issued for his arrest

Al-Araibi has previously shared publicly that Bahraini authorities had arrested and tortured him in detention, allegedly for his brother’s political activities during the Arab Spring. He escaped to Australia in 2014 where he was granted refugee status and has lived since. Bahrain sentenced him in absentia to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalising a police station – charges he denies, pointing out that at the time of the supposed crime, he was playing in a televised football match for his local club Alshabab in Bahrain.

Following Al Araibi's detention in Thailand, human rights organisations and advocates from within the sporting world called on FIFA to stand with Al-Araibi and use its leverage to prevent the footballer's forced return to Bahrain. Similar calls to action were made of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

FIFA issued a statement requesting that "all the relevant authorities (in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia)... take the necessary steps to ensure that.. Al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia where he can resume his career as a professional footballer". The sporting body subsequently addressed a letter to the Thai Prime Minister "requesting a meeting and urging him to solve this issue at the earliest possible moment, in accordance with the relevant international standards".  The IOC backed FIFA's calls for Hakeem's release.

On February 11, 2019 media outlets reported Hakeem's release after Thai authorities withdrew the extradition case against him. Chatchom Akapin, the director general of the international affairs department of the attorney general’s office, said the primary reason was because “the Bahrain government no longer wants to pursue the extradition” of al-Araibi.

Coverage from The Guardian and Human Rights Watch as well as statements from FIFA are available below.

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Article
29 November 2018

Australian refugee football player faces deportation after arrest in Thailand

Author: Helen Davidson, The Guardian

A refugee football player who lives in Australia has been detained in Thailand and is facing deportation back to the country he fled from, where he fears violence and persecution. Hakeem Al-Araibi told Guardian Australia he was arrested on an Interpol red notice for his conviction over an act of vandalism in Bahrain which he denies and says allegedly happened while he was playing in a televised football game. Since 2015 Interpol has said it would not allow red notices against confirmed refugees and asylum seekers from the countries they fled from... Al-Araibi arrived in Australia in 2015 and was granted refugee status and permanent residency in Australia three years later. A former member of Bahrain’s national football team, he has previously described being tortured and beaten by authorities who had accused him and other football players of setting fire to a police station, and he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in jail. Al-Araibi denies the charge and claims he was playing in a televised football match at the time of the alleged incident... 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...

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Article
6 December 2018

Hakeem Al-Araibi’s case is a true test of Fifa’s new human rights policy

Author: Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch

The news refugee Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi was detained by the Thai authorities on a “red notice” by Interpol has rocked the sports world. A “red notice” is a request to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition... Thailand’s immigration chief... says Bahrain requested the player’s arrest in advance of his arrival in Thailand, which suggests he was under surveillance even in Australia... Fifa, the powerful global football federation, has clear rules on player rights, human rights and human rights defenders, and has the leverage to prevent the refugee football player’s forced return to Bahrain. That means Al-Araibi’s case is a true test of Fifa’s new human rights policy: will Fifa stand with a football player and defend him against rich and powerful human rights abusers like the Bahraini government?... In 2012, Al-Araibi came forward to say Bahraini authorities had arrested and tortured him in detention, allegedly for his brother’s political activities. In 2014, Al-Araibi was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalising a police station – charges he denies... But while on a holiday in Thailand with his wife last month, he was stopped at Bangkok airport and he now finds himself in a tug of war between Australia and Bahrain. In the middle of this battle is Thailand. Al-Araibi’s fate lies in their hands, and Fifa can and should influence their decision...

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Article
11 December 2018

Extradition of Bahraini Football Player Moves Ahead

Author: Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch

This week Bahraini soccer player Hakeem al-Araibi was taken to Bangkok Criminal Court, where bail was denied and his detention was extended for 60 days so Thailand can prepare his extradition to Bahrain, a country where he has said he was tortured. Al-Araibi... is a recognized refugee in Australia, where he now lives, and Canberra has requested Thailand allow him to return home. The Australian Football Federation, the Football Melbourne league, and his local Melbourne team have all appealed for his safe return... Speaking to Human Rights Watch from a Thai detention center on December 6, al-Araibi said: “Bahrain is a state that has no human rights. My life is in danger. FIFA should protect me and all players.”  He added, “I want to tell President Infantino that he has the power to save my life – and I am asking him to help.” FIFA, the powerful global football body, has called urgently for al-Araibi’s freedom, saying it “is committed to the respect of internationally recognized human rights,” and concluding that it “supports the calls for the Thai authorities to allow Mr. Al-Arabi to return to Australia…at the earliest possible moment.” But FIFA can do more. FIFA has recently made numerous reforms to uphold human rights, and has leverage over al-Araibi’s forced return to Bahrain. FIFA’s Vice President is Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s ruling family... Sheikh Salman’s senior position within both FIFA and the Bahraini ruling family makes him well-positioned to stop the extradition, and should act immediately...

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Article
9 January 2019

FIFA statement on Hakeem Al Araibi

Author: FIFA

Following a renewed exchange with the Australian Football Federation, FIFA is again calling for a humane and speedy resolution of the case concerning the player Hakeem Al Araibi. This player, a Bahrain national, is currently being detained in prison in Thailand awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings to Bahrain, where he was previously convicted of a criminal offence, the validity of which he strongly contests. This situation should not have arisen, in particular, since Mr Al-Araibi now lives and works and plays as a professional footballer in Australia, where he has been accorded refugee status. FIFA is therefore calling on all the relevant authorities (in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia) to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr Hakeem Al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia where he can resume his career as a professional footballer.

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Item
24 January 2019

FIFA letter to the Thai authorities concerning Hakeem Al Araibi

Author: FIFA

...FIFA is...respectfully urging the authorities of the Kingdom of Thailand to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr AI-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia at the earliest possible moment, in accordance with the relevant international Standards. We strongly believe that this course of action will do justice not only to Thailand's obligations under international Iaw, but also to basic human and humanitarian values, which we know your country and government hold dear. In that respect, we would therefore like to kindly ask for a meeting with a high-level representative of your government at the earliest possible convenience. The objective of the meeting would be to discuss the situation of Mr. Al-Araibi and receive first-hand information on the status of the proceedings. The meeting would be joined by representatives from FIFA and FlFPro, the global union of professional football players.

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Article
26 January 2019

IOC backs FIFA's calls for Bahraini player to be released

Author: Associated Press

The International Olympic Committee has backed FIFA’s calls for a Bahraini soccer player to be allowed to return to Australia from Thailand where he is detention while being pursued for extradition by Bahrain...The IOC said its president, Thomas Bach, “has personally discussed this worrying situation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”...The IOC said its “full support for the FIFA actions in order to find a solution based on ‘basic human and humanitarian values’” has been conveyed to the Thai government by IOC member Khunying Patama Leeswadtraku.

By contrast, the Asian Football Confederation only says it “continues to work with FIFA ... to find a solution.” In emails, AFC spokesman Colin Gibson would not say what the governing body believes the solution should be, specifically declining to back calls for al-Araibi’s return to Australia. An AFC statement said Senior Vice President Praful Patel is handling the matter and not President Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s royal family, to prevent any “conflict of interest.”

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Item
29 January 2019

FIFA holds meeting on situation of player Al Araibi and calls for urgent solution

Author: FIFA

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura welcomed yesterday at the Home of FIFA in Zurich the former Australian international Craig Foster and Mr Brendan Schwab from the World Players Association, who had requested an urgent meeting to discuss the situation of the player Hakeem al Araibi...All participants in yesterday’s meeting expressed grave concern and agreed on the emergency of the situation...

FIFA has called publicly upon the relevant authorities in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia on several occasions to ensure that Mr Al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia and last week a letter was addressed to the Thai Prime Minister requesting a meeting and urging him to solve this issue at the earliest possible moment, in accordance with the relevant international standards...In yesterday’s meeting, FIFA reiterated its will to escalate this issue to the highest levels of all authorities in both Bahrain and Thailand...Mr. Foster added, “We are pleased to see that FIFA recognises the extreme gravity of the situation and their willingness to engage at the highest levels in both Bahrain and Thailand. I look forward to Hakeem’s human rights being upheld and his safe return to Australia. Given the urgent nature of the situation, there is a strong desire to see a resolution this week”.

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Article
1 February 2019

Hakeem al-Araibi: extradition proceedings against refugee begin amid Australian protests

Author: Helen Davidson, The Guardian (UK)

The extradition hearing for Hakeem al-Araibi has been forwarded to the Thai courts as advocates call for Fifa and the International Olympic Committee to threaten sanctions against Thailand and Bahrain, including suspending their memberships, over the continued detention of al-Araibi...The 25-year-old has been in detention in Bangkok for 66 days after he was arrested on an Interpol red notice...

“We want to see both Thailand and Bahrain threatened with suspension from not just football but the IOC,” the former Australian football captain Craig Foster said at the Sydney rally. These are the two biggest sporting organisations on the planet. Membership of those organisations, and of the sports that we love and have a duty to protect, comes with obligations. It’s simply not acceptable to incarcerate and torture athletes and then expect to remain a member of Fifa and the IOC. It cannot possibly be acceptable to try to run a case to refoule a refugee on political motivations and expect to remain a member of Fifa and the IOC.”

Nikki Dryden, who twice represented Canada as a swimmer at the Olympics, and is now a human rights and immigration lawyer, said the IOC had to do “much more than they have so far. The IOC must be faster in securing the release of Hakeem, and must take on the higher value of human rights over money.”

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Article
4 February 2019

Hakeem al-Araibi faces further 60 days in Thai jail after extradition hearing

Author: Helen Davidson, The Guardian (UK)

Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has been given 60 days to prepare a defence against Bahrain’s attempt to extradite him from Thailand...Al-Araibi arrived at Bangkok’s Ratchadaphisek criminal court on Monday morning shackled and barefoot with more than a dozen other prisoners...His appearance...marked the formal beginning of proceedings after Bahrain’s extradition request was formally accepted for consideration on Friday. In court, Al-Araibi stood as the judge read out Bahrain’s allegations against him. He told the court he refused to be extradited.

Allan McKinnon, Australia’s ambassador designate, as well as delegates from other countries and embassies, appeared as a “coalition of support”, according to Craig Foster, the former Australian Socceroo captain who is spearheading the campaigning to free al-Araibi. The coalition included representatives of 14 countries and the European Union. Federico Addiechi, head of sustainability and diversity at Fifa, also attended the hearing to show football’s governing body supported al-Araibi.

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Article
11 February 2019

Hakeem al-Araibi on flight to Australia after release in Thailand

Author: Helen Davidson, The Guardian (UK)

The refugee Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has boarded a flight to Australiaafter Thai authorities withdrew an extradition case against him. Thai authorities said the Bahraini government had decided to end its pursuit of Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 before being granted permanent residence in Australia, where he has lived since.

Craig Foster, the former Australian football captain and commentator...spearheaded the campaign to free Al-Araibi...The case has also shone a spotlight on the governance and international power of world football organisations. Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa, a Bahraini royal, was criticised by al-Araibi in 2016 when he was seeking election to the presidency of Fifa. Al-Araibi spoke out about Sheikh Salman’s failure to protect Bahraini footballers during the crackdown and while he was head of the Bahrain football association. Sheikh Salman is now president of the Asian Football Confederation and vice-president of Fifa, but has said nothing publicly about the case. When pushed, the AFC suddenly announced Sheikh Salman had recused himself from regional responsibility 18 months earlier.

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