BANGKOK — The journey to Thailand was meant to be a belated honeymoon for a younger soccer participant and his spouse.
However upon touchdown at a Bangkok airport final week, Hakeem al-Araibi, a political refugee from Bahrain enjoying for a soccer staff in Melbourne, Australia, was detained by Thai immigration authorities, who’ve been requested to extradite him to Bahrain, the place he mentioned he had been tortured.
“Please, I’m afraid if I’m going to Bahrain, I will probably be tortured once more,” Mr. Araibi mentioned by cellphone from an immigration detention middle in Bangkok.
On Thursday night, Mr. Araibi mentioned he had been instructed by immigration officers that he should seem in courtroom on Friday. Human rights teams are frightened that Thai authorities are poised to extradite him.
“We wish to go to seashores and exquisite locations,” Mr. Araibi mentioned of his Thailand go to. “I’ve solely seen this immigration jail.”
His case just isn’t solely a window into how weak foreigners are handled in Thailand, a rustic with a historical past of deporting asylum seekers.
It is also seen as a bellwether for a way nicely FIFA, the scandal-plagued physique governing worldwide soccer, is enjoying by new guidelines meant to guard its athletes.
“This one participant sitting in detention is a vital indication of whether or not it’s a brand new day for human rights for FIFA or will it return to an outdated system the place human rights abusers received away with their crimes and the victims have been punished,” mentioned Minky Worden, the director of world initiatives at Human Rights Watch.
Mr. Araibi’s detention on the airport on Nov. 27 was a response to an Interpol request primarily based on an arrest warrant from Bahrain, Thai officers mentioned.
However this week, the Interpol request, a so-called pink discover, was lifted, in line with Thai immigration authorities.
Exactly why it was lifted stays unclear. However such requests aren’t meant for use by repressive governments to nab political opponents abroad. Additionally they aren’t meant to use to refugees. Mr. Araibi has refugee standing in Australia.
Nonetheless, Busadee Santipitaks, a spokeswoman for the Thai Ministry of International Affairs, mentioned the case in opposition to Mr. Araibi was persevering with.
“We’ve got acquired a provisional arrest request from Bahrain and are within the technique of contemplating the matter in accordance with our home legal guidelines and rules,” she mentioned.
“Despite the fact that Interpol appears to have lifted the pink discover, the arrest warrant in opposition to him from Bahrain nonetheless stands,” mentioned Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, the immigration chief of Thailand.
Mr. Araibi’s case might want to make its approach by means of the Thai authorized system inside 12 days, or by Dec. 14, as a result of Thailand doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Bahrain, Basic Surachate mentioned.
“The Thai courtroom would be the one which makes the choice whether or not to ship him to refuge in Australia or ship him again to Bahrain,” he mentioned. “There’s no massive fear about this story as a result of we solely observe the legislation.”
However human-rights teams fear that a political refugee is on the point of being pressured again to Bahrain, a rustic with a report of persecuting opponents to the ruling household.
The United Nations “stays very involved” about Mr. Araibi’s case, mentioned Cynthia Veliko, the regional consultant for Southeast Asia for the United Nations Human Rights Workplace.
As soon as a star defender on the Bahrain nationwide soccer squad, Mr. Araibi, 25, was swept up within the Arab Spring protests in 2011 when tons of of 1000’s of Bahrainis marched in opposition to the ruling household of the small Gulf kingdom that’s house to the USA Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
The crackdown by the Sunni Muslim monarchy was particularly powerful. Hundreds of Shiites, who make up the nation’s non secular majority, have been imprisoned and tortured, human rights teams say.
Final month, three Shiite leaders of Bahrain’s opposition have been sentenced to life imprisonment for spying, in what Amnesty Worldwide known as a “travesty of justice.”
In 2014, Mr. Araibi was sentenced in absentia to 10 years’ imprisonment on costs of getting burned a police station through the thwarted protest motion. Mr. Araibi mentioned he had been enjoying in a televised soccer match when the crime supposedly occurred.
Mr. Araibi later accused Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, a member of the ruling household and the pinnacle of the Asian Soccer Confederation, of doing nothing to cease the persecution of Shiite athletes who have been thought to have joined the protests.
“They tortured me,” Mr. Araibi mentioned of his remedy by Bahraini safety forces. “They needed to harm me so I couldn’t play soccer once more.”
In 2016, Sheikh Salman vied for the presidency of FIFA. As soon as thought-about a favourite for the highest job, he misplaced the race to Swiss-born Gianni Infantino, amid a blitz of unfavourable press about Bahrain’s human-rights report.
“Not solely did Sheikh Salman lose the vote narrowly however in the middle of the competition Bahrain’s appalling report of torture and abuse of detainees was back and front web page information,” mentioned Nicholas McGeehan, an unbiased researcher on human rights within the Gulf. “They’ll have appreciable thirst to take revenge.”
Sheikh Salman, who didn’t reply to requests for remark, stays on the head of the Asian soccer physique and is a vp of FIFA.
A FIFA spokesman mentioned in an emailed assertion that it had change into conscious of Mr. Araibi’s “pressing state of affairs.”
“FIFA helps the requires the Thai authorities to permit Mr. al-Araibi to return to Australia the place he at present enjoys refugee standing on the earliest attainable second,” the assertion mentioned.
The worldwide soccer physique has been troubled by crises in recent times, most notably a corruption scandal that thinned its management ranks in 2015.
This month, members of the Afghan girls’s soccer staff claimed a persistent sample of sexual abuse by male coaches and officers. FIFA says it’s investigating.
Because of human-rights controversies surrounding Russia’s internet hosting of the World Cup this 12 months and Qatar’s deliberate internet hosting in 2022, FIFA unveiled new guidelines meant to raised shield gamers and whistle-blowers. Sponsors had urged the modifications.
Brendan Schwab, govt director of the World Gamers Affiliation, which represents the pursuits of 85,000 skilled athletes globally, described FIFA’s reforms as nascent.
“These constructions, whereas groundbreaking, are of their infancy,” mentioned Mr. Schwab, who’s an Australian labor and human rights lawyer. “We’re nonetheless discovering that too typically enforcement is coming right down to the political will of the management of soccer.”
As a registered soccer participant, Mr. Araibi needs to be protected by FIFA’s strengthened human rights coverage, Mr. Schwab mentioned.
“It’s not related that Mr. Hakeem al-Araibi might have made feedback essential of a FIFA official,” he mentioned. “What’s related is that he’s a refugee in want of safety by the sport’s leaders who wield monumental energy.”
Australian diplomats have met with Mr. Araibi and are calling for his return to Australia however declined to remark additional on his case, citing privateness issues.
Thailand doesn’t acknowledge refugees however it’s celebration to 2 different worldwide conventions that the United Nations says apply to Mr. Araibi’s case: one in opposition to torture and the opposite defending civil and political rights.
Beneath army junta rule for 4 years, Thailand has extradited members of the Uighur Muslim minority to China, the place rights teams say they’re liable to torture. Chinese language dissidents looking for refuge in Thailand have additionally been forcibly repatriated.
In October, a Thai courtroom ordered the deportation of about 70 Pakistani Christians and different non secular minorities who had overstayed their visas. The Pakistanis mentioned they feared persecution in the event that they returned house.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of Thailand, who led a 2014 army coup, visited Bahrain final 12 months. His counterpart in Bahrain, Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, was quoted in a Thai newspaper saying he thought-about Thailand his second house.
On Wednesday, Prince Khalifa attended a operate on the Thai Embassy in Manama, the capital of Bahrain.
In 2014, Thailand, performing on an Interpol request, handed Ali Ahmed Ibrahim Haroon, a Bahraini who had taken half within the 2011 Arab Spring protests, into the custody of Bahraini officers.
United Nations officers mentioned Mr. Haroon endured such harsh remedy on the journey again to Bahrain that he needed to be transferred to a hospital upon arrival. He’s nonetheless in jail.
“We all know what’s going to occur to Hakeem if he’s despatched again,” mentioned Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei, director of advocacy for the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy in London. “He made quite a lot of highly effective folks very upset.”
Mr. Araibi mentioned a few of his former teammates from the Bahrain nationwide staff remained in jail.
“I don’t wish to return to Bahrain,” he mentioned from detention in Bangkok, his voice shaking. “I wish to play soccer in Australia.”