As Bahraini Refugee Footballer Faces Extradition, BIRD Highlights Contradictions of His Flawed Trial.

11 December 2018 – The Bahraini court ruling that convicted and sentenced Bahraini refugee footballer, Hakeem AlAraibi, to ten years imprisonment and triggered his detention in Thailand is deeply flawed and riddled with factual errors, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said today. BIRD obtained the Court ruling recently, and it will provide the Thai Court with an expert opinion on the case, underscoring the contradictions of the ruling and the weakness of the evidence it was based on.

Hakeem, who appeared before the Criminal Court in Bangkok this morning, is now facing at least 60 more days in detention after the Court allowed his extradition to proceed. In addition, the Court did not grant bail to Hakeem, who will remain in pre-trial detention at the Bangkok Remand Prison.

The Bahraini court ruling, which Bahrain will submit as evidence to extradite Hakeem, relied on the coerced confession of Hakeem’s brother, Emad AlAraibi, who was also convicted in the same trial; he remains imprisoned in Bahrain’s notorious Jau Prison. In his evidence, Emad claimed that on 3 November 2012, he, his brother, and 150 others vandalized a police station at 6:30PM, while the public prosecution and the court concluded the estimated time of the incident was between 8 to 8:20PM. However, only minutes before the time of the alleged crime as stated by the public prosecution, Hakeem was playing in a televised football match broadcast on Bahrain’s national sports channel. The Bahraini Football Association also submitted evidence confirming Hakeem’s participation in the match. It would have been physically impossible for Hakeem to have reached the scene of the crime at the time the alleged act was committed.

The presiding judge Sheikh Mohamed bin Ali AlKhalifa – a member of Bahrain’s ruling family against whom Hakeem was an outspoken critic – dismissed the exonerating evidence. He claimed that the defense was only trying to “escape punishment” and that the court was not obliged to take into consideration all the evidence presented by the defence, as long as it considers “the evidence was conclusive in showing that [the defendants] committed the crime”. Further, the judge dismissed the claim that Emad’s confession was extracted under torture because Emad “did not appear to have signs of injuries” and when asked whether he was tortured, replied that he had not.

Thai authorities arrested Hakeem at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) on 27 November despite him being a recognised refugee in Australia since 2017. He has been kept in detention since. On 7 December, a Thai court approved an arrest warrant for him, and his extradition hearing is scheduled to start today.

BIRD condemns the flawed nature of Hakeem’s trial in the strongest possible terms and urges Thailand to uphold its international human rights obligations and allow Hakeem to return to Australia safely.

Commenting, BIRD’s Director of Advocacy, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, said: The Thai Court should deny Bahrain’s request to extradite Hakeem, as it is in violation of legal principles, and instead must allow him to return safely back to Australia. Hakeem was already unfairly persecuted and subjected to torture in Bahrain. Sending him back to Bahrain will place him at risk of further torture and will be a breach of international human rights law, as well as Thailand’s own human rights obligations. No State should accept to be manipulated by Bahrain’s corrupted judiciary. ”

The United Nations and the international community have raised serious concerns surrounding the use of torture and coerced confessions in Bahrain. In May 2017, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed its concern 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 and elsewhere, particularly at the Criminal Investigations Directorate, at the moment of arrest, during pretrial detention and in prisons, in order to extract confessions or as punishment. It also expressed concern over the “widespread acceptance by judges of forced confessions.”

Background Information On The Case

In November 2012, Hakeem was arrested and tortured by the Bahraini authorities, allegedly due to the political activities of his brother. He has since spoken publicly about his torture. “They blindfolded me,” he said. “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.’

In January 2014, Bahraini authorities sentenced Hakeem  to 10 years imprisonment in absentia on fabricated charges of vandalising a police station, which he strongly denies.

Hakeem fled to Australia in May 2014, where he was granted refugee status in November 2017. This visa allows Hakeem to remain in Australia indefinitely, and to travel to and from Australia, so long as he does not travel to Bahrain, the country from which he has sought protection.

Hakeem conducted several interviews in 2015 and 2016 with the New York Times, the Guardian, and ITV, in which he had been very critical of the ruling family. In particular, he criticised the current president of the Asian Football Confederation and cousin of the king, Sheikh Salman AlKhalifa, during his candidacy for FIFA presidency in 2016.

  • 27 November 2018 – Hakeem was detained at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) under an INTERPOL “Red Notice”, issued upon Bahrain’s request due to his criminal conviction in 2014. The “Red Notice” was lifted on 4 December.
  • 30 November 2018 – Australian Foreign Minister, Marise Payne said: “He’s not an Australian citizen…and he’s also travelling on U.N. papers. So we have raised that matter. Our post in Thailand is aware of it and is following up on that.”
  • 1 December 2018 – Hakeem was told by the immigration authorities that he would be able to fly back to Melbourne. A few hours before his scheduled departure, however, Hakeem was taken to Suan Phlu (Bangkok) Immigration Detention Center and was not provided access to legal representation. On the same day, the Bahraini Embassy in Thailand issued statements on Twitter stating that they are “following up with the relevant security authorities” and that “the suspect is wanted for security cases.
  • 3 December 2018 – A Thai court approved a temporary remand to detain Hakeem for 12 days in Bangkok. Thai Immigration also informed the court that they oppose a bail application for Hakeem.
  • 7 December 2018 – The Thai Office of the Attorney General filed an application for the issuance of a provisional arrest warrant with the Court, who later on the same day approved the issuance of the warrant. Hakeem was then informed about his provisional arrest warrant, and that he later would be transferred to prison.
  • 9 December 2018 – Australian Foreign Minister, Marise Payne issued a strong statement demanding the “safe return” of Hakeem to Australia.
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