Ha­keem Al-Araibi’s case is a true test of Fifa’s new hu­man rights pol­icy

The Guardian Australia - - Sport - Minky Wor­den

The news refugee Bahraini foot­baller Ha­keem Al-Araibi was de­tained by the Thai au­thor­i­ties on a “red no­tice” by In­ter­pol has rocked the sports world. A “red no­tice” is a re­quest to lo­cate and pro­vi­sion­ally ar­rest a per­son pend­ing ex­tra­di­tion. Hu­man Rights Watch has doc­u­mented “red no­tice” mis­use by China and other coun­tries for po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and wrong­ful ar­rests. In the lat­est turn to the story, Thai­land’s im­mi­gra­tion chief now says Bahrain re­quested the player’s ar­rest in ad­vance of his ar­rival in Thai­land, which sug­gests he was un­der sur­veil­lance even in Aus­tralia. Although the no­tice was lifted by In­ter­pol, Al-Araibi is still in a Thai de­ten­tion cen­tre fac­ing im­mi­nent de­por­ta­tion to Bahrain, where he risks im­pris­on­ment and tor­ture.

Fifa, the pow­er­ful global foot­ball fed­er­a­tion, has clear rules on player rights, hu­man rights and hu­man rights de­fend­ers, and has the lever­age to pre­vent the refugee foot­ball player’s forced re­turn to Bahrain. That means Al-Araibi’s case is a true test of Fifa’s new hu­man rights pol­icy: will Fifa stand with a foot­ball player and de­fend him against rich and pow­er­ful hu­man rights abusers like the Bahraini gov­ern­ment?

In 2012, Al-Araibi came for­ward to say Bahraini au­thor­i­ties had ar­rested and tor­tured him in de­ten­tion, al­legedly for his brother’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties. In 2014, Al-Araibi was sen­tenced in ab­sen­tia to 10 years in prison for al­legedly van­dal­is­ing a po­lice sta­tion – charges he de­nies, point­ing out that at the time of the sup­posed crime, he was play­ing in a tele­vised foot­ball match for his lo­cal club Alshabab in Bahrain.

“They blind­folded me,” Al-Araibi told The New York Times, de­scrib­ing the tor­ture he en­dured at the hands of Bahraini of­fi­cials in 2012. “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.’”

Al-Araibi es­caped to Aus­tralia in 2014, where he was granted refugee sta­tus in 2017, and he now plays foot­ball for semi-pro­fes­sional club Pas­coe Vale FC in Mel­bourne.

But while on a hol­i­day in Thai­land with his wife last month, he was stopped at Bangkok air­port and he now finds him­self in a tug of war be­tween Aus­tralia and Bahrain. In the mid­dle of this bat­tle is Thai­land. Al-Araibi’s fate lies in their hands, and Fifa can and should in­flu­ence their de­ci­sion – but has not re­sponded to Hu­man Rights Watch’s re­quest for a state­ment on his case.

Al-Araibi has been very crit­i­cal of the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion, Sheikh Sal­man Bin Ibrahim Al-Khal­ifa, es­pe­cially dur­ing his can­di­dacy for Fifa pres­i­dency in 2016, call­ing for in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the jail­ing and tor­ture of Bahraini ath­letes who peace­fully protested his fam­ily’s rule in the 2011 Arab Spring demon­stra­tions.

Sheikh Sal­man is also a Fifa vice pres­i­dent. Ar­ti­cle 3 of the Fifa statutes, the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s con­sti­tu­tion, says, “Fifa is com­mit­ted to re­spect­ing all in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised hu­man rights and shall strive to pro­mote the pro­tec­tion of these rights.” The or­gan­i­sa­tion’s Hu­man Rights Pol­icy fur­ther says, “Fifa is com­mit­ted to help­ing pro­tect the rights of foot­ball play­ers and will con­tin­u­ally eval­u­ate ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tions and pro­cesses and, if nec­es­sary, con­sider ad­di­tional mea­sures….”

In view of what has been hap­pen­ing with other peace­ful po­lit­i­cal Gulf crit­ics, Fifa needs to make an ur­gent in­ter­ven­tion to help Al-Araibi avoid a forced re­turn to Bahrain where he risks per­se­cu­tion.

The out­come of a sim­i­lar case should have Fifa deeply con­cerned. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and UNHCR, Ali Ha­roon, the last Bahraini dis­si­dent repa­tri­ated from Thai­land, was “se­verely beaten, shack­led and put into a wheel­chair be­fore be­ing forcibly placed on a flight to Bahrain….Sub­se­quent re­ports by Bahraini hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions and me­dia out­lets in­di­cated that Ha­roon had sus­tained such se­vere in­juries prior to ar­riv­ing in Bahrain he was trans­ferred to a hospi­tal upon his ar­rival.”

This case bears strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties to Al-Araibi’s. Like Al-Araibi, Ha­roon was a peace­ful critic of the Bahraini gov­ern­ment, and was ex­tra­dited by the Thai au­thor­i­ties on the ba­sis of an In­ter­pol “red no­tice” ar­rest war­rant. More­over, there is ev­ery rea­son to fear the Thai courts and im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties will not pro­tect Al-Araibi’s rights. Thai­land has long failed to re­spect the legally bind­ing prin­ci­ple of “non­re­foule­ment,” where states are pro­hib­ited from re­turn­ing an in­di­vid­ual to a coun­try to face tor­ture or other se­ri­ous hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

Hu­man Rights Watch has doc­u­mented how, in re­cent years, Thai au­thor­i­ties have forcibly re­turned numer­ous refugees and asy­lum seek­ers, in­clud­ing send­ing 100 Uighurs – an eth­ni­cally Tur­kic, pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim mi­nor­ity – to China, where they face per­se­cu­tion and in­tern­ment camps. The end game for Ha­keem AlAraibi should not be a forced re­turn to the coun­try he has fled. Fifa needs to find its voice to de­fend this player be­fore it is too late.

• Minky Wor­den is di­rec­tor of Global Ini­tia­tives at Hu­man Rights Watch and over­sees the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s work on hu­man rights and sports

for Rights and Democ­racy (BIRD) Pho­to­graph: Bahrain In­sti­tute

Ha­keem Al-Araibi with Sheikh Sal­man Bin Ibrahim Al-Khal­ifa, pres­i­dent of the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion.

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