Settlement Services International joins refugee and human rights advocates, football associations and concerned citizens around the world in calling for Thai authorities to immediately release Bahraini refugee Hakeem Ali al-Araibi and allow him to return to Australia.
A former Bahraini national footballer, Mr al-Araibi found refuge and safety in Australia after fleeing torture and persecution in his home country.
Now he is languishing in immigration detention in Thailand and could be deported to certain danger in Bahrain.
SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said, “As an organisation responsible for the settlement and inclusion of refugees in Australia, many of whom have experienced torture or trauma, SSI expresses serious concern for the welfare of Mr al-Araibi, an Australian resident.
“This course of action taken by the Thai and Bahrain governments contravenes international human rights law and places Mr al-Araibi, a recognised refugee and torture survivor, at grave risk of imprisonment and torture if forcibly extradited.”
She said torture was an abhorrent practice and instrument of terror that could never be justified.
Torture could have severe and long-lasting health and mental health consequences for the victims and its impact could extend to the survivors’ families, friends and the community as a whole, she said.
“Under no circumstances should Mr al-Araibi be removed to Bahrain or to any other country in which he would be at real risk of serious human rights violations,” Ms Roumeliotis said.
“We express our deepest concerns regarding the continued detention of Mr al-Araibi and urge the Thai government to respect Hakeem’s refugee status and to take steps to facilitate his immediate release so that he can be safely reunited with his wife and rebuild the new life the Australian government has granted him.”
Amnesty International Campaign: Save Hakeem - Tell Thailand to release refugee footballer
Mr al-Araibi fled Bahrain in 2014 after he was convicted in an unfair trial of vandalising a police station, even though he said he was abroad and playing in a televised football match at the time.
He has been detained in Thailand since he arrived in Bangkok for a holiday with his wife on November 27, 2018.
On February 4 Mr al-Araibi appeared in court, denying the Bahrain extradition request and refusing to be sent back. He will be remanded in prison until he appears in court again on April 22.
There are fears that, if extradited, the Australia permanent resident will face the death sentence in his home country.
The Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights said that harsh sentences handed down last month — including death sentences against political detainees and a life sentence against the country’s opposition leader — were a serious indicator of what was waiting for Mr al-Araibi if extradited to Bahrain.
It said there were currently over 4,000 prisoners of conscience in Bahrain. Eleven citizens died as a result of torture in Bahrain’s prisons in 2017.
Mr al-Araibi has already described being tortured in Bahrain before his arrival in Australia. He said after his arrest in November 2012 security forces “blinded me. They held me really tight, and one started to beat my legs really hard, saying, ‘You will not play soccer again. We will destroy your future.’”
Mr al-Araibi’s public comments, in addition to concerns raised by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, lends credibility to Mr al-Araibi’s fear of being subjected to torture once again should he be returned.
In its 2017 report, the committee states it was “concerned that there continue to be numerous and consistent allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment of persons who are deprived of their liberty in all places of detention”.
The UN committee expressed concern over numerous and consistent allegations of widespread torture in Bahrain and “the climate of impunity which seems to prevail”.