Thai immigration authorities have claimed Bahrain requested the arrest of a dissident before he arrived in Bangkok for a holiday, raising concerns that the Australian resident was under surveillance.
Hakeem Al-Araibi, 25, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and was granted asylum in Australia in 2017, has been held in Thailand for 10 days since he arrived in the country with his wife.
After his arrest in Thailand, Al-Araibi, a professional footballer, was shown an Interpol “red notice” international arrest warrant against him, and told that was the reason he was being detained.
Supporters and human rights groups have questioned why Interpol granted Bahrain a red notice against a refugee who fled the country.
Earlier this week the red notice was lifted, but Al-Araibi remained in immigration detention under a Thai court order. Officials maintained they were working through next steps with both Australia and Bahrain.
But in an interview with BBC Thai, the head of Thailand’s immigration bureau has suggested the arrests was not only on the basis of a red notice.
Yahya Alhadid, president of the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (GIDHR), said the “contradicting” statements raised concerns about how Bahrain was aware of Al-Araibi’s planned trip.
“Did Bahrain put him under surveillance or was it spying on him? In [either] case that brings up the question: is Bahrain spying on all its opponents outside the country?” said Alhadid.
“If so, this indicates that the safety of all the Bahraini refugees at risk.”
Alhadid said there was no legal basis for Al-Araibi’s continuing detention after the red notice was lifted.
“We know that Thai authorities have a bad history sending back refugees to their home countries to face their grim fate, as they did with the Bahraini Ali Haroon’s in December 2014, and with the Turkish teacher Mohammet Sökmen in 2017.”
Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain after being targeted for alleged links to political protests, said he was “outraged” to learn the Gulf state regime may have had him under surveillance.
“I’m just a football player, so busy with my life focusing on the sport, I have absolutely no political affiliations, I am not politically active,” he said.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said the Australian government had to make it clear “publicly and privately” that the continuing detention of Al-Araibi was unacceptable, and to gain answers from Bahrain about alleged covert surveillance of an Australian resident.
“After [Jamal] Khashoggi’s gruesome murder, the world should not underestimate how far the Gulf states will go to crush dissent and silenced dissidents. The Thai government must know it’s crossing a red line if it deports Hakeem.”
Interpol has not answered specific queries on Al-Araibi’s case.
Meanwhile, an extradition hearing in the Bangkok criminal court appears set to proceed.
An Australian foreign affairs ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday that it had received legal documents from Bahrain which needed to be forwarded to the immigration department before the case could begin.
Human Rights Watch said a local lawyer had been hired to represent Al-Araibi, whose Melbourne football team, Pascoe Vale FC, has launched a fundraiser to help with legal costs.