Thailand has defended its arrest of refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, saying Australian authorities are to blame for notifying them he was the subject of an interpol “red notice”.
Despite previously saying that it was acting on an Interpol Red Notice request from Bahrain, Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has now said that it would have not detained Al-Araibi had it not received the Red Notice alert from the Australian Interpol.
Thai officials arrested Al-Araibi, 25, upon his arrival at Bangkok airport on November 27, after it received a “formal request by Bahrain for his arrest and extradition”, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
Al-Araibi, who is wanted by Bahrain over the firebombing of a police station in 2012, said he faces torture and possible death if he is returned back to his homeland.
“It took several days after the arrival of Mr Hakeem, before the Australian authorities informed us that the Red Notice had been cancelled. By that time, legal proceedings in Thailand regarding Mr Hakeem had already started and could not be reversed.”
After being sentenced by Bahrain to 10 years’ jail in absentia, al-Araibi fled in 2014 and was later granted refugee status by Australia and lives in Melbourne.
He was shackled on Monday when he appeared in court in Thailand where the formal hearings in his extradition trial were set down to start on April 22.
The Foreign Ministry’s statement seems to contradict an earlier claim by Thai Immigration chief Police Lieutenant General Surachet Hakparn that Bahrain knew of al-Araibi’s travel plans prior to his arrival.
Surachet said on December 5 they had been instructed by Foreign Affairs to arrest al-Araibi prior to his arrival.
“The Bahraini government knew that he would be arriving in Thailand so they coordinated with Thailand’s permanent secretary of foreign affairs to detain him, pending documents sent from Bahrain,” Surachet told BBC Thai.
Australia has called for Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to personally intervene and free the semi-professional footballer.
Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned his Thai counterpart not to risk damaging the relationship between the two countries over al-Araibi’s detention.
“I would be very disappointed if as a result of how this was handled that that relationship between the Thai and Australian people were affected,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who has directly lobbied leaders in Bangkok, said it was within Thai extradition laws for the country’s attorney-general to exercise discretion and allow al-Araibi to come back to Australia.
Senator Payne said she had also encouraged Bahrain’s government not to proceed with the extradition.
But Thailand’s Attorney-General’s office says under the 2008 Extradition Act the Thai government does not have the power to intervene once a legal case is underway.
“The Thai government position is that the government will not in any way intervene or interfere or influence the criminal justice system in Thailand,” a spokesman said.
He added the court will take up to three months to complete al-Araibi’s extradition case, meaning he will be in Thai custody “at least until August”.