Update: On 11th February the New York Times and others reported that a Thai court had dropped the extradiction case against Hakeem. The player is now free to return to Australia.
Exactly one month ago, Hakeem Al-Araibi, a professional football player in Australia, was wrongfully detained in Thailand at the hands of Bahrain through an Interpol Red Notice. Once Bahrain had the Notice issued, Araibi was immediately arrested upon arrival at Thailand in Bangkok Airport while on vacation with his wife for their honeymoon.
Since 2012, Araibi has been under constant threat from his homeland after he was arrested by Bahraini authorities due to the political activities of his brother during the Arab Spring protests. Like many others before him, Araibi stated that he was also subjected to torture during his time in jail in the country.
After being released, Araibi immediately sought asylum in Australia. Australian immigration authorities understood that Araibi would face execution if sent back to Bahrain. Thus, Australia automatically ruled out any possibility of extradition and Araibi was officially granted political asylum in the country in 2014.
Hence, the dilemma of the Bahraini refugee and his recent detainment has raised several significant questions regarding Interpol, as it has clearly backed numerous countries that have been documented for human rights abuse cases. Will Interpol continue to aid these countries in seeking ‘wanted’ individuals, even when abuse precludes the possibility of extradition in most countries? To what extent should these countries be allowed to utilize Interpol for their own agendas? Most importantly, what is Interpol’s agenda?
Radha Stirling, an international extradition expert and CEO of Detained in Dubai, commented that “in 2015, Interpol announced that they would not consider any listing request pertaining to an asylum seeker or refugee requested by the country from which they had fled. Thus, Bahrain’s request for a Red Notice against Araibi should have been initially rejected. It is Interpol’s responsibility to ensure that their rules are adhered to, especially regarding Red and Blue Notices. Araibi is a refugee who was granted asylum by Australia. According to Interpol’s internal protocols, he should have been immune from a Red Notice request by Bahrain.”
Countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates constantly misuse Interpol as a means for debt collection, even though private financial disputes fall beyond Interpol’s mandate. Gulf countries use the threat of a Red Notice to extort debtors often, even when they have been making payments or negotiating with creditors. The GCC continues to attempt and force them to capitulate with the demands of local business partners under the threat of an Interpol listing. When individuals apply for removal of such listings, they are usually granted on the grounds that they do not meet Interpol’s criteria.
According to Stirling, “Interpol is clearly in urgent need of reform, and Australia should lead the call. Why has Interpol failed to recognize Australia’s granting of asylum to Abaidi, an act which should have instantly nullified Bahrain’s request for a Red Notice? There needs to be an end to the misuse of the Interpol system.”
She added, “Countries with documented gross human rights violations; countries to which extradition is likely to result in an individual’s torture or death; should be altogether barred from recourse to Interpol. There needs to be international cooperation to implement human rights provisions in the extradition procedures of any nation.
“In the case of Araibi, as in so many others, what countries like Bahrain rely on is ‘jurisdiction shopping.’ They list an individual on Interpol, knowing that most developed nations would never entertain the possibility of extradition, and just wait for that person to cross the border into a nation with a dismissive view on human rights.”
This could be why Araibi was not stopped at the airport in Australia, but in Thailand. Thus, it would appear that Bahrain had waited to list Araibi on Interpol until it knew that he would be traveling to Thailand on his honeymoon. By the time that the Interpol Red Notice against Araibi was lifted, Thai authorities claimed that it did not matter since they already had an arrest and extradition request for Araibi from Bahrain.
“The Red Notice against Araibi was illegitimate according to Interpol’s own rules. Thailand has not extradition treaty with Bahrain, and Araibi is in grave danger of torture or death if he is sent to Bahrain. The Australian government has good relations with Thailand, but if their extradition procedures make no consideration of human rights concerns, the government needs to push for reforms in this area and the case of Araibi presents an urgent need for change; otherwise Australians cannot feel secure traveling to Thailand,” Stirling explained.
On 11 December, Araibi’s detention was extended for another sixty days by a Bangkok court. "I don't want to go back to Bahrain - I want to go back to Australia. I didn't do anything in Bahrain. I'm a refugee in Australia," Araibi said as he exited the courtroom.
"If I am deported to Bahrain, don't forget me, and if once I'm there you hear me saying things, don't believe me," Araibi posted on Facebook. He explained that he knew what would happen to him if he was to be sent back to Bahrain: “I will be tortured to confess things that I have never done."
Applying for removal of a Notice which was clearly politically-motivated can take months, only to have Interpol eventually concede that the listing should never have occurred. It is time for the international community to demand Interpol reform before more lives are needlessly placed in jeopardy.
Hayder al-Shakarchi is an Arab-American journalist and an international news analyst based in Washington, D.C
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