BANGKOK – Thailand’s Foreign Ministry went on the offensive yesterday after saying Thai officials only detained Australian refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi, because Australian authorities sent an Interpol “red notice” after he boarded a plane to Bangkok.
Thailand’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Thailand only became involved “by chance” after a police bureau that handles Interpol matters in Australia notified Thai authorities that Mr Araibi had boarded a flight to Bangkok and was the subject of a “red notice” initiated by Bahrain.
“It took several days after the arrival of Mr Hakeem before the Australian authorities informed us that the red notice had been cancelled,” the statement said.
“By that time, legal proceedings in Thailand regarding Mr Hakeem had already started and could not be reversed,” it said.
Mr Araibi could stay in jail until August, as the court hearing his case will take two to three months to deliver its ruling after the next hearing, set for late April, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office said.
“So between now and then, Hakeem will have to be in custody for at least until August,” Trumph Jalichandra told a news conference, adding that he could only be released sooner if Bahrain withdrew its request.
The attorney general’s office also told reporters Wednesday that with extradition requests bail would be opposed.
“If you look at the number of foreign defendants, they pay their bail and jump bail and then don’t show up in court,” Chatchom Akapin, the office’s director general for international affairs, said, adding that the policy applied “not only to Hakeem”.
A deputy spokesman for the office said the case was not political.
Australia’s Home Affairs office confirmed in December that federal police had advised Thai authorities a person with a red notice was on the way to Thailand but did not say if the bureau was aware Mr Araibi had refugee status.
On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison repeated a call for Mr Araibi to be freed, saying he was “disturbed” to see photos of the footballer in shackles at a court hearing this week.
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne urged Thai authorities to use their discretion.
“Given … that he is a permanent resident of our country, on the pathway to citizenship, we have encouraged the Bahraini government not to proceed with the extradition application, and we have encouraged the Thai government to exercise the discretion that they have available to them,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from Samoa.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said she had visited Bangkok personally to call on Thai authorities to use their discretion in Mr al-Araibi’s case.
In response to the news Mr Al-Araibi may be held until August, Ms Payne said Australia the government is trying to resolve the issue.
“Australia recognizes the importance of working cooperatively with Thailand and Bahrain to try to resolve this issue,” she said.
“To this end Australia has already made multiple representations to Bahrain, including at ministerial level. Bahrain has not, to date, changed its position.
“Australia therefore continues to respectfully call on the Thai Government to exercise its discretion, in accordance with Thai law, to intervene in this case and return Mr Alaraibi to Australia as soon as possible, consistent with international human rights laws and norms.
“Given Mr al-Araibi’s status as a refugee, given his protection visa position in Australia, given he’s a permanent resident of our country on the path to citizenship, we have encouraged the Bahraini Government not to proceed with the extradition application, and I certainly encourage the Thai Government to exercise the discretion it has available to it under its extradition act.”
Thailand’s Attorney-General is expected to hold a news briefing on the case.
Football commentator and former Soccer player Craig Foster is spearheading the #SaveHakeem movement, advocating for his release.
He said the footballer was still training in prison, preparing for a time when he could hopefully play again for his Melbourne club.
Mr al-Araibi was convicted of vandalizing a police station during 2011 anti-government protests in Bahrain and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia after he fled.
He denies the charges, saying he was playing in a televised soccer match at the time of the police station attack.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said Mr al-Araibi was tortured by Bahraini authorities because of his brother’s political activities during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011.
Bahraini authorities deny allegations of torture.