If the case of Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed teaches us anything, it is just how powerful social media and activism can be.

Caught between the gap of not wanting to upset Ms Mohammed's father and the Saudi Arabia government for which he works, and mindful of public opinion heading in an entirely opposite direction - and helped by the UNHCR declaring her a refugee - the Thailand Government went with public opinion. It was the right call. 

This brings us to Hakeem Al-Araibi, the former Bahraini national team football player granted refugee status by Australia in 2017. I detailed the background of Hakeem's case here in December. If you're not aware of it, please read it, as it's important background for this article. 

Al-Araibi has now been in jail in Thailand for more than 50 days. He was taken into custody when he arrived at Bangkok Airport with his wife on their honeymoon, and has been held in custody ever since. His wife has now returned to Melbourne with their rent being paid with the fantastic support of Professional Footballers' Australia (PFA). 

The fear is that Al-Araibi is being held - unlawfully - at the request of the Bahrain Government and that the Bahrain Government is putting infordinate pressure on the Thai Government to 'repatriate' him to Bahrain. This pressure is rumoured to be due to some business deals between some members of the Bahrain Royal Family and members of the Thai Government, but we have not been able to confirm this.

It certainly can't be because Bahrain is a big trading partner with Thailand. Trade data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that Thailand's top import and export partners are:

1.  China1.  USA
2.  Japan2.  China
3.  USA3.  Japan
4.  Malaysia4.  Australia
5.  South Korea5.  Hong Kong

If Al-Araibi is repatriated to Bahrain, there is a genuine fear that he will be tortured. He has already been imprisoned and tortured in Bahrain as part of the crackdown on sports people who protested as part of the 'Arab Spring' movement in 2011. 

Thailand is not a signatory to the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, but they are a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture. In fact, their current Foreign Minister, Don Pramudwinai, was the Thai Ambassador to the United Nations in New York when Thailand ratified the Convention Against Torture in 2007.

Having done so, Mr Pramudwinai would have no doubt that Thailand would be in contravention of their obligations as a signatory to this Convention if he was to do anything other than authorise the return of Hakeem to Australia. That is why there has been relentless public pressure on this issue.

Noting the pressure, some international journalists known to me were keen to do a story to support Hakeem's cause. They contacted FFA for comment and for an interview to be broadcast on television in Europe, any time between today and the end of next week - in other words, an eight day period for them to name a day and time to suit them.

According to the response from a senior manager at FFA, one of which I have seen, the governing body could not find anyone available to say anytime between now and the end of next week. 

Really? The governing body can't make anyone available to advocate on behalf of a person with refugee status who plays in the NPL Victoria competition; who is wrongfully detained in Thailand; and to argue the cause with an international audience in the hope of getting broader support?

It seems while the FFA Board may have changed, the management hasn't. This response is not about doing the 'diplomatic thing'.

In fact, the official advice to Craig Foster, Fatima Yazbek of the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (GIDHR) and other activists is to 'up the ante' on the public pressure.

When you get a European journalist essentially giving what is termed a 'free kick' to argue for your cause before an international audience, you would take it, wouldn't you?

Actor, Anthony La Paglia tweeted that it was a test of the Australian Government as to whether they would stand-up to Bahrain. That is so.

It's also a test of Australian football as to whether they will stand up to the President of the AFC, and support the community in bringing home Al-Araibi. 

According to Foster, football has an obligation to do everything it can to support Hakeem Al-Araibi.

“Every organisation in football has to be scrutinised to ensure we are doing everything we can. 

“My message to everyone is 'don't stop now'. We've all got to do whatever we can to ensure Hakeem Al-Araibi is returned to his home in Australia as soon as possible. I just hope that football politics is not getting in the way of saving this kid's life.”


As a postscript, here's some advice for the new FFA Board and their old staff: don't be on the wrong side of history. Again.

It's a new Board. It's your chance to be different and make a difference.

It would be better to be known for standing-up for Hakeem Al-Araibi, and doing everything you can to bring him home, than tippy-toeing around the AFC in the hope of getting elected to an Executive chaired by Shaikh Salman. 

You'll feel so much better if you do. 


Thailand Government
Mr Don Pramudwinai 

Twitter: @mfaupdate

Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa

Twitter: @theafcdotcom

Australian Government
Senator Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs
foreign.minister@dfat.gov.au or senator.payne@aph.gov.au

Twitter: @marisepayne

Bahrain Government
​Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, Minister for Foreign Affairs

Twitter:  @khalidalkhalifa







Categories: Opinion | People | Asia | Local

hakeem al-araibi, bahrain, thailand, afc, craig foster, #savehakeem

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