5 August, 2021

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Release Of Hakeem al-Araibi: A Lesson In Human Rights Diplomacy 

By Laksiri Fernando –

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

We all are living in an interdependent world today where issues of human rights are often highlighted in the international media boosted by the new social media. The issue of Hakeem al-Araibi, a refugee living in Australia from Bahrain, and became arrested in Thailand on 27 November 2018 when he was there on honeymoon, was such an important case highlighted all over the world and particularly in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, UK, Canada and Europe. 

After over two months of incarceration, Araibi was finally released on 11 February 2019. The Thai authorities dropped the extradition charges requested by Bahrain, under particularly the Australian diplomatic efforts. Human rights diplomacy in this case however was not limited to the Australian authorities. There were key individuals, sports organizations and media outlets apart from the usual human rights organizations/campaigners who influenced in his release. The Thai authorities also finally involved in diplomatic efforts with Bahrain. 

Background to the Case 

Born in Bahrain in 1993, Araibi was a well-known professional footballer playing for the Bahrain national team before fleeing the country in 2012. He finally came to Australia in 2014 and lives in Melbourne having officially obtained the refugee status. The reason for fleeing the country was alleged persecution and baseless prosecution charging him for vandalism of a police station with others during the famous Bahrain uprising in 2011/2012. 

Bahrain is a country with Shia and Sunni populations engulfed in frictions. While Shia followers are the majority, the political system is controlled by Sunni authorities. As a footballer, Araibi has always believed that football and sports could bring the two communities together particularly among the youth. This is like cricket or sports possibly playing a positive role in reconciliation in Sri Lanka. However, on matters of discrimination and democracy, Arabi has been outspoken while his brother Emad being more vocal and an activist.  

In recent years, there have been movements asking for greater democracy and freedom in Bahrain. Those were undoubtedly related to the Arab Spring movements, nevertheless had local issues involved. When protests were unleashing beginning 2011, Emad was directly involved in street protests. When the police came after Emad at their home, Arabi was arrested instead in Emad’s absence. This is a common story in many similar countries including Sri Lanka. Araibi was later released as he was a very important football player.  

In the following year when many footballers and sportsmen were arrested, harassed and tortured, Araibi himself became outspoken. That was the apparent reason for his final arrest in November 2012. He was going to a Café and the police came and arrested him for the apparent involvement of vandalizing a police station in his home town, Manama. This was based on a supposed confession of his brother Emad. But at the time this incident happened, Arabi apparently was playing a televised football match. 

During this detention, he was allegedly tortured. He told a German broadcaster that they spent three hours hitting him hard on his legs while saying ‘you will never play football again with these legs’ (Wikipedia). But he was resilient and soon recovered. He was released on bail and was able to play again to the national team in late 2013. That is how he managed to get the opportunity to flee. In December 2013, when he was in Qatar to play for the West Asian Football Championship, he fled. He fled first to Iran, then to Malaysia, and then to Thailand and finally to Australia where he sought and received refugee status in 2017 after three years of careful processing of the case.   

Human Rights Issues 

As a refugee in Australia, Arabi had rights protected under international law and conventions. He could travel with his official documents. Although many authorities and countries are unaware of this situation, a recognized refugee of a country could not be issued with a Red Notice for an alleged offense perpetrated in the original country. Perhaps his status was not clear even to the Interpol first. 

On 27 November 2018, Arabi and his recently wedded wife travelled to Thailand to enjoy a belated honeymoon. They were both arrested at the Bangkok airport. Later the wife was released while Araibi was charged with extradition orders from Bahrain. He was nevertheless allowed the opportunity defend. A Thai human rights lawyer appeared to defend him even without a fee at first. How did they know about his arrival? It is said that some officers in the Australian Interpol informed the Thai authorities, even them without knowing the situation and refugee rights. 

Although the Interpol rescinded the red notice having realized the mistake, the Thai authorities kept him in custody because the Bahrain authorities had requested his extradition. The argument was that he was a convicted offender or a ‘criminal’ under laws of Bahrain. Thailand has extremely cordial relations with Bahrain with even mutual business interests. Understandably therefore, this was not a request that the Thai authorities could easily refuse. 

There were other human rights issues related to Arabi’s case. (1) What Bahrain talking about was not purely a criminal case, but a political one. (2) Arabi was convicted in absentia without fully appreciating the facts in his defence. (3) He was obviously tortured in custody in Bahrain. (4) Araibi was discriminated and persecuted with many others given their minority religious status. (5) He had a valid claim that he would be tortured if was deported to Bahrain. 

Human Rights Diplomacy 

Diplomacy related to Arabi’s release worked at three levels – top, middle and bottom. The middle level diplomacy was the most effective led by professionals and professional organizations related to football. Australia’s former Socceroo’s captain, Craig Foster, played a key role in the whole release. He is a football analyst and a human rights campaigner. He influenced the Australian government and the opposition on the issue, coordinating with Arabi’s wife. He shuttled between Melbourne, Bangkok and Zurich to influence different football communities and particularly FIFA. Their sane voices were influential in Bangkok. 

There are so many people and organizations worked in Araibi’s release and all names cannot be mentioned. A particular story in ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ (12 February 2019) by James Massola titled ‘The inside story of Hakeem’s home coming’ might be useful in this respect.

It was a campaign that succeeded without much exaggeration or castigation of third world countries, Thailand or even Bahrain. Only extreme criticism was of Arabi’s shackling in Bangkok. Shackling undoubtedly is despicable, but I have seen shackling even in Australia for perhaps security reasons. I highlight this aspect to emphasize the importance of human rights diplomacy without merely relying on ‘naming and shaming’ and castigating of third world countries or governments in toto. There can be instances where strong campaigns are necessary, but with reasoning and necessary balance. Otherwise extreme criticisms can be counterproductive, in my opinion.

Amnesty International Australia compiled a very useful petition signed by over fifty thousand people which was handed over to Thai authorities. There were various other campaigns launched by international and Thai human rights organizations that also resulted into nearly a million Tweets over the issue. Human rights organizations led by Bahraini activists themselves in London and elsewhere had every right to voice their concerns and that was useful for others and for the future. 

The key factor however was the Australian intervention and diplomacy on the matter. As Araibi was an officially recognized refugee without any dubious record, it was rather the duty upon Australia to intervene on the case. It was quite delicate as the matter involved three countries. Australia’s relations with both Thailand and Bahrain are extremely cordial and Australia is also not a country vociferous on all international human rights issues like some Western counterparts. In terms of human rights diplomacy, Australia’s positive image both with Thailand and Bahrain was extremely helpful. 

Both the Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Prime Minister Scott Morrison played key roles, making phone calls, having meetings and writing letters. When it came to public statements those were carefully worded. Australian diplomacy not only extended to Thailand but also to Bahrain. Perhaps that is where the final solution was sought. However, the Thai government also had communicated with Bahrain in seeking as they called a ‘win-win solution.’ 

Conclusion

Hakeem al-Araibi’s detention and release may appear a simple case of human rights where diplomacy could work. However if that diplomacy had failed, at least one person’s human rights would have been in jeopardy. It is also not only the diplomacy of the Australian government that this article is emphasising. First and foremost it was the diplomacy of Craig Foster and his football colleagues that worked and influenced the others to follow suit. 

There was another important event that guided the cordial relations between Australia and Thailand. That was the rescue of a junior football team of 12 boys and their coach from a Thai cave where they were fatally stranded in June-July 2018. Dr Richard Harris and Craig Challen, two Australian divers had played a key role in this rescue. They directly wrote to the Thai Prime Minister requesting Arabi’s release. This Australian-Thai cooperation during the cave rescue proved extremely helpful in Hakeem al-Araibi’s release. 

It appears that those who are helpful in third world matters apparently have more influence in resolving human rights issues than those who behave otherwise. That is the final lesson.     

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Latest comments

  • 9
    0

    Prof appreciate your article on a well deserved case. But how come you never brought up any human rights issues of any single person in Lanka, when there are thousands. Is it because you are an Australian now and not a Lankan anymore. Anyway this case ended up on a brighter note only because of the countries involved, Thailand (a true buddhist country) and Australia. If it was in Lanka the ending would have been different. The Lankan government would have killed him like the Saudis , did to Kashogi.

    • 2
      12

      chiv
      Tamil racists are incorrigible liars. You can’t escape the habit ( The Lankan government would have killed him like the Saudis , did to Kashogi.) Their only purpose is to obtain citizenship of a Western country.
      They never dream of living in a Tamil only Ealam – that’s for the low caste Dalits. They are ever grateful to Prabhakaran for that opportunity. They don’t fail to commemorate him. War was a God send. They kept on funding the war so that relatives and friends could keep coming. It would be interesting if Canadian and Australian authorities oblige to release information regarding how many refugee claimants have returned to Sri Lanka on vacation within a year of receiving refugee status on the basis possible torture back home.

      Soma

    • 9
      0

      Dr Laksiri Fernando,

      Thanks for writing about the football player Arabi. Can you also write an opinion about the world ruble you about their Double Standards about one player being slapped, and another being killed, Thagudeen, in Sri Lanka?

      • 8
        0

        Thanks Amarasiri bro@
        This very same thing came to my mind as I am reading LF#S current article.
        :
        Why he has not come up with any article about LANKEN Rugby player’s murder yet today, but shedding crocodiles tears to an arab player ?
        :
        May be LF’s twisten mind set does not know what to be focused right at the moment or… well be, he may have some pathological reasons to away from lanken murder cases of Thadjudeen nature .

        • 2
          0

          Buramphisincho,

          “Why he has not come up with any article about LANKEN Rugby player’s murder yet today, but shedding crocodiles tears to an arab player ?”

          Let’s see why.

          1. When he was at the Colombo University, he was one of the people who recommended that Mahinda Rajapaksa, get an honorary doctorate, so that we have Dr. Mahinda Rajapaksa.

          2. Yoshita Rajapaksa, who was involved with the murder pf Thagudeen, is his son, while his wife Siranthi, aided and abetted in the killing of the rugby player

          3. When Sirisena illegally and unconstitutionally appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa, as the FAKE Prime minister, Dr, Laksiri Fernandao argued, it was constitutional

          4. Should we suspect that Dr. Laksiri Fernando is on the payroll of Mahinda Rajapaksa, just like Dr. Dyan Jayatillake?

      • 2
        0

        Dr Laksiri Fernando,

        RE: Release Of Hakeem al-Araibi: A Lesson In Human Rights Diplomacy

        (298 Words) Saudi Sisters risk everything to flee oppression

        There is another case, going on right now, where BOTH SRI LANKA and AUSTRALIA seem , to be giving into Saudi pressure.

        Desperate and alone, Saudi sisters risk everything to flee oppression

        https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/20/asia/saudi-arabia-sisters-flee-hong-kong-intl/index.html

        Hong Kong (CNN)The night they fled, Reem and Rawan didn’t dare sleep.
        It was September 6, 2018. The two Saudi sisters were on a family vacation in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

        Failure was not an option. Every step of their escape from Saudi Arabia carried the threat of severe punishment or death.

        “We knew the first time, if it’s not perfect, it will be the last time,” Reem says.
        At 5 a.m., the sisters say they did something they’d never done before. They pulled on jeans they’d bought in secret and walked out of the house without their abayas.
        It was only after they arrived at Colombo Airport that the sisters booked the flight they’d meticulously researched online: SriLankan Airlines flight UL892 departing Colombo at 9 a.m., arriving Hong Kong at 5:10 p.m. local time. From there, they’d take Cathay Pacific flight CX135 departing at 7:10 p.m. for Melbourne, Australia.
        They had no trouble boarding the plane for the roughly six-hour flight to Hong Kong.

        In a letter to the sisters’ lawyer obtained by CNN, SriLankan Airlines has identified the men as Naeem Khan, SriLankan Airlines station manager, and Noman Shah, a staff member for ground handling agent, Jardine Aviation Services.

        The sisters say the men led them to another area of the airport, where their lawyer Michael Vidler says they canceled the women’s Cathay Pacific flight to Melbourne and booked them, without their knowledge, on an Emirates flight to Riyadh, via Dubai.

    • 8
      0

      Jamal Khashoggi ‘s murder is being investigted yet today. And lanken Scholar Dr Fernando has thought of the need of bringing and article of a baharain YOUNG man who is still alive but being jailed.
      :
      The very same scholar and the like minded Authors seem to be doing nothing regarding lanken rugby player, by name Wassim Thadjudeen who was then a close mate of former SRILANKEN pseudo princes#, whose death was found in a vehicle burnt down. To that time, there had been no rumours of the player’s death to be a murder, however, with change of govt in 2015, it revealed and even JMO and the court had to declare it as a result of a brutal murder. It is inedeed a misterious murder. Investigations started with the body of the deseased dug out of the pit and starting to examine accordingly. And these body parts that were earlier frozen in a lab of controversal pvt MEDIA COLLEGA lab was also came to light during the investigations. THose frozen body parts were said to be smuggled out to paint the picture in favour of a non-murder. There had been speculations in the country, that the vehicles to have been used to transport the player in that premedicated killing should be from the offical pool of vehicles belonged to former firstlady. The inspector general accused for the suspicions had beeen remanded over 10 or more months. However, with the release of the INSPECTOR, the investigations buried under the carpet, yet today, not even single word heard about it again. However, there had been rumours, that first lady should have been interogated by CID, and however, through the connections to have played in favour of Rajapakshes put it off back and forth.

  • 1
    11

    chiv
    Tamil racists are incorrigible liars. You can’t escape the habit ( The Lankan government would have killed him like the Saudis , did to Kashogi.) Their only purpose is to obtain citizenship of a Western country.
    They never dream of living in a Tamil only Ealam – that’s for the low caste Dalits. They are ever grateful to Prabhakaran for that opportunity. They don’t fail to commemorate him. War was a God send. They kept on funding the war so that relatives and friends could keep coming. It would be interesting if Canadian and Australian authorities oblige to release information regarding how many refugee claimants have returned to Sri Lanka on vacation within a year of receiving refugee status on the basis possible torture back home.

    Soma

    • 9
      0

      somass

      “Tamil racists are incorrigible liars. “

      True, I can see it from you.
      When did your south Indian ancestors converted to Sinhala/Buddhism and why?

  • 1
    0

    Bahrain’s Shia / Sunni issues are much deeper than Bahrain uprising in 2011/2012, more or less it is a Saudi Arabia-Iran issue. It has been going on even before Arabi was born. Shias of Bahrain who wanted to establish an Iranian rule are very unruly and arrogant people who have the Iranian roots. While Sunni rulers (yes men of Saudi Arabia) discriminate Shias in terms of govt appointments of critical areas, ministries, forces etc, Shias being majority discriminate Sunnis everyday and in every way possible. Sunnis are usually kind hearted and helpful to others though. I remember Shias used to attack and even kill foreign workers from south Asia those days since they thought these people grab their job opportunities. They regularly used gas-cylinders and burning vehicle tires. Once they burned alive many poor construction workers to death – I don’t know about Arabi, but Shias innocence is questionable.

  • 5
    0

    The editor of an Australian newspaper wrote about this case even in The Washington Post recently, asking the US to apply pressure on Thailand.
    Because the guy is a sportsman, the case gets attention and publicity. When ordinary people face the same issues, whether in Thailand or Sri Lanka or India, there is little attention and little international outcry. We need committed human rights activists who can take up the cases of such ordinary people. The Asian Human Rights Commission and Basil Fernando did some commendable work, but more work by others is needed.

  • 0
    3

    In this article, Laksiri has shown the colonial – mindset mentality and that is always praise colonial attitudes, action and criticize sinhale. Here, Laksiri Fernando took a shot at Sri lanka too. Here the case is This foot ball player, probably he is a shiIte, for criticizing the Sunni Regime establishment, Australian authorities arrested him. DID SRI LANKA EVER DO THAT KIND OF THINGS. Australian recently has developed some allergy for Muslims. DO you remember how they arrested the sri lankan muslim computer – guy. I don’t think he did anything wrong. It was just to find what would he reveal outside, and what project secrets he would reveal. I am suspicious that guy came to Thailand too. Laksiri Fernando instead of being a cheer leader to your naturliazed country of Colonials, you could have criticized that in a fair manner. Sri lanka is a weak country and sri lanka history is foreign to you than the Australian history even though now muslims and aborginies are allergic to australians. It is not a good article. You just explained what you are.

  • 1
    0

    Soma, I dont have to answer because others have. Have a nice day.

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