BANGKOK – Australia’s Department of Home Affairs has confirmed it was the Australian bureau of Interpol that alerted Thailand to the arrival of Hakeem Al-Araibi but has not explained how an Interpol red notice came to be issued against the refugee in the first place.
The timeline of Al-Araibi’s travel, Bahrain’s actions and the subsequent arrest have raised questions about potential communication breakdowns or failures between Interpol and Australian authorities leading to a red notice against the refugee. It has also raised questions about how Bahrain was told of Al-Araibi’s travel plans.
Al-Araibi, a Bahraini refugee who lives in Australia as a permanent resident, was arrested on arrival at Bangkok on the evening of 27 November, on the basis of a red notice issued for an alleged act of vandalism, which Al-Araibi maintains he did not commit and occurred while he was playing in a televised football match.
Thai immigration authorities initially intended to return Al-Araibi to Australia in the days after, documents obtained and translated by Guardian Australia show. But they later assented to hear and process Bahrain’s extradition request.
The 25-year-old professional football player has been detained in Thailand for more than two weeks, as Thai courts process the application from Bahrain. Australia has opposed the extradition and demanded his return to Australia.
Al-Araibi had applied for a tourist visa through Thailand’s Melbourne consulate and provided further documentation, including flight details, on 4 November. On 8 November, he was told his visa was ready for collection.
That same day Bahrain was granted a red notice from Interpol for his arrest.
Thai immigration said last week, and Australia’s Department of Home Affairs confirmed on Wednesday, that Interpol’s Australian National Central Bureau alerted Thailand that an individual with a red notice against him was scheduled to depart Australia. This is understood to be a largely automatic process.
The national central bureau is staffed by Australian federal police officers who work to Interpol guidelines and processes, and have access to Interpol’s databases.
It is understood that the Interpol system means Thailand would have become aware of the red notice when Al-Araibi came through customs and immigration in Bangkok, even if not already been alerted.
“Any action taken in response to the Interpol red notice is a matter for Thai authorities,” the home affairs spokesman said, also on behalf of the AFP.
Countries differ, but Australia does not arrest people on the basis of a red notice.
Detention of a subject in Australia would require a formal extradition request from the issuing country’s equivalent of an attorney general, which would then go to the Australian government, and would be need approval by a magistrate for an extradition hearing to proceed.
In instances of requesting a red notice, assessments of legitimacy are made by Interpol’s central organisation, not its national bureaus, and the nation hosting the the subject would not necessarily be consulted, Guardian Australia understands.
It remains unclear what checks are done to ensure the red notice does not breach Interpol’s own regulations, and Interpol has consistently declined to answer questions.
Guardian Australia can reveal Australian consulate officials wrote to the head of Thai immigration insisting that Al-Araibi was an Australian resident and should be returned to Australia.
According to Thai documents, there was apparent confusion about the legitimacy of Al-Araibi’s travel documents – a special document issued to refugees who do not have citizenship yet – but that Thailand intended to act in favor of Australia’s request. However, the red notice was also raised as a factor in deciding on next steps.
By the time the Interpol red notice was lifted, Thai authorities were claiming it did not matter because they had an arrest and extradition request from Bahrain.
On Wednesday a Thai court extended Al-Araibi’s detention by 60 days, in order to continue processing Bahrain’s extradition request.
Al-Araibi fled Bahrain after he and other athletes were allegedly beaten and tortured over their or their families’ involvement in political protests, and was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2014.
He arrived in Australia in 2014, claiming asylum, and was granted refugee status in 2017. Al-Araibi does not yet have citizenship, which would give Australia greater powers of assistance.
This year he decided to go to Thailand on holidays with his wife – his first international trip since arriving in Australia.
Supporters have continued to lobby governments and world football organisations, including Fifa and AFC. Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s royal family, and the subject of public criticism by Al-Araibi in 2016, is a vice-president of Fifa and the president of AFC.
In response to a letter from Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, calling for public support of Al-Araibi, AFC said only that it was monitoring the case.
A spokesman for ADHRB, Husain Abdulla, described the response as “lukewarm” and “disturbing”, in the context of Fifa and FFA’s statements.
“As a vice-president of Fifa, Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa must speak out in support of Hakeem,” Abdulla said. “As the president of the AFC, Sheikh Salman must uphold the confederation’s mission of ensuring the highest ethical standards. He must do the right thing and use his considerable influence to ensure that Hakeem is allowed to return home.”