The story of the Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi, who is detained in Thailand due to an international arrest warrant issued by Bahrain, has drawn the attention of human rights campaigners and international press during the past few weeks.
The issue of Hakeem makes a good story for the international media and organizations which are pressurizing the Thai government to return him to Australia where he has been seeking asylum since 2013. Human rights organizations aim to protect individuals who could be at harm in their home countries. The Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry’s 2011 report, which was commissioned and accepted in full by Bahrain’s King, indeed acknowledged the occurrence of abuses and shortcomings in the aftermath of the February 2011 protests. Individual cases of torture in prison were addressed by the Bahraini government, which sentenced several police officers due to these allegations.
Since 2011 Bahrain has introduced several reforms which have helped ensure the protection of detainees, starting with the establishment of the Ombudsman’s office, the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission and the Special Investigations Unit; along with setting up cameras in all detention centres etc. There is a higher level of transparency in Bahrain and the country has moved forward, despite continuous claims to the contrary by the opposition.
Hakeem Al Araibi, who initially fled to Qatar and then Iran, should stand a fair and transparent trial in Bahrain, as any Bahraini citizen in his position has the obligation to. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail, after being convicted in absentia for taking part in a terrorist operation in 2012 involving an arson attack, possession of inflammable bombs and causing damage to public and private property, according to Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior. These are serious charges and shouldn’t just be brushed aside by the media and NGOs.
Many opposition figures fled Bahrain by choice and sought asylum in countries like Iran, from where they have continuously attacked and sought to discredit the Bahraini government. In some cases, citizenships were revoked. International arrest warrants certainly weren’t issued towards every Bahraini who fled the country; simply because many of them, despite being opposition figures, were not accused of possessing bombs or attacking police.
Despite the Bahraini government’s allegations that Hakeem Al Araibi has committed serious crimes and should be returned to Bahrain for trial, the international media and others choose to turn a blind eye to this. What if he is truly a terrorist? Or is it that the evidence comes from the Bahraini government, and thus should be completely disregarded? The succession of fatal terrorist attacks against policemen, and the large quantities of impounded weapons smuggled in from Iran demonstrates that the threat of terrorism is real, obliging the authorities to act in order to protect its citizens.
What if Hakeem Al Araibi was an American citizen and an international arrest warrant was issued by the US or any other country towards a citizens who firstly fled to Iran “the state sponsor of terrorism”? Would all these organizations still defend his case and disregard the fact that he might actually truly be a terrorist?
The Bahraini government has struggled against continuously negative coverage in the international media and the Al Araibi issue is another instance of this. However, the reforms which have been implemented to protect human rights norms and the rule of law should be considered. The Bahraini authorities meanwhile should seize on the attention given to this case to transparently committing to a fair and open trial to ensure that justice is done.
It is both wrong to portray Al Araibi as either an innocent victim or a terrorist until he has had the chance to defend himself in a fair trial and a final sentence is passed. We cannot afford to be emotional about such issues. This is a case of security and terrorism which needs to be addressed rightfully by both the Bahraini government and the international media.