The diplomatic rift over the detention of Hakeem al-Araibi has deepened with the federal government disputing official Thai claims that Australia was responsible for the refugee footballer’s arrest.
A strongly-worded statement released by the Australian embassy in Bangkok to Thai media on Thursday night categorically denied claims by Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Ministry that it would have not detained Mr al-Araibi had it not received a Red Notice alert from the Australian Interpol.
“Due to misreporting on the matter, the Australian government would like to clear up confusion regarding the Interpol Red Notice issued against Hakeem al-Araibi,” the embassy statement said.
“Australia never issued a red notice against Mr al-Araibi.” it stated
In what it described as a “breach of Interpol’s regulations”, the embassy said the red notice was issued by Bahrain on November 8, 2018, shortly before Mr al-Araibi travelled to Bangkok.
“The red notice should never have been issued because of Mr al-Araibi’s status as a protected refugee,” it said.
The embassy said the Australian Government was not initially aware of the red notice and, in line with Interpol procedure, notified Thailand of Mr al-Araibi’s travel.
“When the Australian government became aware of the situation, we ensured the red notice was rescinded as soon as possible. This happened on 30 November, only three days after Mr al-Araibi arrived in Bangkok,” it said.
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.
Mr 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.
The 25-year-old, Melbourne-based footballer was shackled on Monday when he appeared in a Thai court, where the formal hearings in his extradition to Bahrain were set down to start on April 22.
The embassy statement repeated the Australian government’s call for Mr al Araibi’s immediate release.
“The Australian Government has said unequivocally on many occasions that Hakeem al Araibi should be returned to Australia, where he is a permanent resident with protected status, as soon as possible.”
While denying blame in the detention, the embassy said the Australian government was reviewing its procedures to ensure a similar situation did not happen again.
The embassy statement comes as Mr al-Araibi told the ABC he was terrified at the prospect of being sent back to Bahrain.
“I am very scared,” he was quoted as saying, maintaining he never vandalised a police station in Bahrain, and insisting he was targeted because he criticised the country’s rulers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has twice written to his Thai counterpart to request Mr al-Araibi be returned to Australia.
On Wednesday, Mr Morrison warned the Thai Prime Minister the detention could risk Thailand’s relationship with Australia.
“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.