Hakeem al Araibi: Football’s Political Prisoner

Hakeem al Araibi: Football’s Political Prisoner


The chances are that you probably haven’t
heard of Hakeem al Araibi. The Bahraini centre back plays for Pascoe Vale FC, a semi-pro
club in Australia’s National Premier Leagues Victoria. But he was once considered one of
the Bahrain national team’s brightest talents at a time when the tiny Gulf Kingdom was considered
one of the best underdog sides in Asia. Despite a population of over a million people, Bahrain
missed out on both the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals after losing by a single goal in
consecutive intercontinental play offs. But that’s when it all started to go wrong in
Bahraini football. In 2011, with the Arab Spring spreading through
the Middle East, Bahrain experienced its own series of protests. In February that year
tens of thousands of people joined at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama to
protest for greater political freedoms. They were put down violently and in the aftermath
dozens of footballers, sports men and women were targeted by the Bahraini authorities
for exercising their right to protests. Many have alleged torture and mistreatment and
several managed to flee the country to tell their stories. Hakeem al Araibi was arrested
in 2012 and accused of rioting and attacking a police station. The problem was that he
was actually playing a league game at the time of the alleged riot. Hakeem was jailed for three monthas and claimed
he was tortured. But he managed to flee to Australia where he sought asylum in 2014 and
rebuilt his life, playing in Australia’s state leagues. But, in November, he went on a belated
honeymoon with his new wife to Thailand. There he was arrested immediately and set on the
path to being extradited to Bahrain where he had been found guilty, in absentia, and
sentenced to ten years in jail. Bahrain had issued a “red notice” via Interpol, an
international police organisation, meaning he was to be arrested on sight. He is currently
sitting in a detention centre in Bangkok, threatened with deportation. But his story
is about more than one persecuted refugee’s fight against being returned to an uncertain
future. It is about how regimes punish those that speak out, and how football and the Asian
Football Confederation became complicit in that persecution. Things looked much rosier back in November
2009. Bahrain was on the verge of something special. They had reached the final intercontinental
play off for the 2010 World Cup finals and would play New Zealand. The Red dominated
the All Whites in Manama but just couldn’t score and the game ended 0-0. In the return
match New Zealand took the lead but Bahrain won a second half penalty which if they’d
scored would have put them through on away goals. But it was missed by Sayed Adnan, who
that year had been nominated for Asian Player of the Year, and the World Cup slipped away. Just over a year later that golden generation
of players was effectively disbanded. The Arab Spring came to Bahrain on Valentines
Day 2011. Bahrain’s Al Khalifa royal family and the ruling elite are largely Sunni Muslim
but the vast majority of the population is Shia. Thousands of largely shia protestors
gathered at the pearl roundabout in Manama, including dozens of sporting heroes, wrestlers,
handball players, and most significantly of all, several national football team players
including Sayed Adnan, and the brothers A’ala and Mohamed Hubail. A’ala was the country’s
all time leading goal scorer. But the peaceful protest was crushed. Activists claim four
people were killed when the military rolled their tanks in to clear the makeshift camp
that had been erected. As many as 30 people would be killed over that period. A military
force organised by the UAE, Qatar and Saudi, who feared the spread of such regime change,
rolled over the border to maintain the peace. The players survived. But they were marked
men. The three, as well as Bahrain’s goalkeeper, had been spotted at the protests and an example
was to be made of them. They were identified in a nightly sports show. A’ala phoned in
and was abused by the presenter. All the players were fired from their clubs and effectively
banned from the national team. The next day they were all arrested. “We saw some masked
men get out of the car. They said: ‘Captain A’ala get your brother’ and we went with
them,” A’ala later explained in an ESPN documentary, E:60 The Athletes of Bahrain.
“They put me in the room for the beatings. One of the people who hit me said I’m going
to break your legs. They knew who we were… We were forced to endure it. I had to endure
it. If I didn’t something worse would have happened to me.” Eventually the Hubail brothers
managed to escape to Oman, and Adnan to Australia. “The violence and abuse is so huge. We have
too much work. We can’t cope here. A lot of doctors, a lot of people have been targeted,
soccer players, basketball players, teachers, unionists,’ said Nabeel Rajab, Bahrain’s
leading human rights activist, back in 2012. “The people who are in charge, they don’t
care about international image. They are military people. All of the sport associations are
headed by the royal family. We have 100 associations headed by the royal family.” And this was the problem. The president of
the Bahrain Football Association, who had stood by as players were targeted for expressing
their political beliefs, was Sheikh Salman bin Khalifa, a leading member of the royal
family. He would later become president of the Asian Football Confederation and narrowly
lost to Gianni Infantino in the 2016 FIFA presidential campaign. During the FIFA presidential
campaign Sheikh Salman’s alleged role in the persecution of players became front page news.
Hakeem al Araibi accused him of not doing enough to protect him nor his fellow players,
which is strongly denied. But far from protecting the players, Bahrain’s
state news agency reported that Sheikh Salman would head up a committee to identify any
footballers that had participated in the protests. Sheikh Salman would later deny any involvement
to The Guardian, and claimed that: “The allegations are entirely false and categorically
denied by Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa. While it was proposed that Sheikh Salman lead
a fact-finding committee in relation to the events of 2011, that committee was never formally
established and never conducted any business whatsoever.” At least 150 sports men, women
and officials were suspended. Nabeel Rajeeb, the human rights activist, was also eventually
jailed for five years for sending tweets that outlined his allegations of torture taking
place in Bahrain’s infamous Jaw Prison. But sporadic unrest and protests continued.
So when a police station in Manama was attacked, eventually the authorities came to Hakeem
al Araibi’s door. Both he and his brother were arrested, tried and, it was alleged,
tortured. “They blindfolded me. They held me really tight and one started to beat my
legs really hard saying: “You will not play soccer again. We will destroy your future,”
Hakeem said in an interview with the New York Times. Hekeem managed to escape but his brother
remains in prison. Eventually he was given leave to stay in Australia in 2017 and begin
to rebuild his life. But when he arrived in Thailand he was arrested even though Interpol’s
own rules prevent refugees from being issued “red notices” by the countries they flee
from. He is currently in an immigration cell and could be sent home any moment. It seems
that the Bahraini regime has long memories and a lot of leverage. The Hubail brothers
were both allowed to return to Bahrain and denounced their previous allegations. A’ala
even campaigned for Sheikh Salman when he ran for FIFA president. Sayed Adnan returned
to the national team briefly too. But Hakeem al Araibi is unlikely to be afforded the same
luxury. His club Pascoe Vale FC has begged FIFA and even the Thai government to intervene.
FIFA has released an anaemic statement calling for Al Araibi’s return. The AFC has not commented
but Sheikh Salman has other business to attend to. He has a re-election campaign to run.
Meanwhile Hakeem al Araibi awaits his fate. “Bahrain is a state that has no human rights.,”
he told Human Rights Watch from his holding cell. “My life is in danger. FIFA should
protect me and all players. I want to tell President Infantino that he has the power
to save my life – and I am asking him to help.”

About the Author: Garret Beatty

100 Comments

  1. Again, thank you so much for uploading this and bringing a light to this awful situation! I support PVFC and hope to have our Hakeem back and playing soon! Thank you Tifo #savehakeem

  2. Interesting to see how even national athletes are not safe, even in their own countries who they represent :(.. great video Tifo!

  3. I beg everyone to donate to his GoFundMe to help him access a human rights lawyer
    https://www.gofundme.com/save-hakeem-alaraibi
    Every cent helps

  4. You changed the video's music… Now it sounds more light hearted… Did you change it coz of Arab death threats.. Coz I wouldn't be surprised.

  5. And then people give Muslims shit because of their governments lol.We clearly hate our governments more than you people do, we’re just weak and we can’t do much about it, they have weapons and we do not.

  6. Holy shit. You guys should cover some of the stories from my country, Colombia, back in the late 80s/early 90s. Andres Escobar particularly.

  7. Never lose your integrity, guys. Not all subscribers are the same, but I’d like to believe that like me, others watching will be inspired to pay more attention and maybe act on the politics behind football, and we owe it to channels like you. Amazing video, guys.

  8. I think this channel is much realer than even CNN news. It’s unimaginable how even athletes in Asia are treated like dogs and scraps to their own country and given a chance to defend themselves! @tifo pls continue and God bless u guys

  9. This has been said alot but this is by far the best channel about Football on the internet. If you guys were a TV Station i wouldn't change the channel. This is premium work.

  10. Would you ever do a video on the economics of the fifa transfer market? It’s really interesting seeing how SBCs can cause prices to rocket

  11. Just ban countries that actively violate human rights on mass scale from international football. Might be half the world but whatever. But oh no wait its FIFA so we rather host tournaments in them.

  12. I play in this league against pasco vale, the league is so close knit and trying its best to get him home,
    I hope it happens soon.

  13. What a brilliant video. Shedding light on a subject that, like others I image, I had no idea about. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. A sad story but an important one.

  14. Sorry if this will be irrelevant .. Can you do a video on Wolves?? They are causing problems to epl big six as by today Tottenham has lost to wolves by 3 goals

  15. What is the use to a teams owner if the team place say 12th instead of 8th in the league table? Does a team get more money if they place higher? Do the team get paid for qualifying for UCL

  16. I love how foreigners ONLY give one side of the story. Tifo football stick to tactics. And do not talk about others specially when one of your subs knows the player in question personaly (actually his brother ). Bahrain is a long way from perfect but is no where near the tryanical nation your narrative puts it. Do not believe this shite and fact check yourself the population is divided closer to 55 – 45 in sunni favor this number will vastly increase after naturalization of the syrian refugees alongside the yemeni. Furthermore of the 30 “brutally massacred by the regime” its actually 45 of which 19 where ssfc (police) officers. The riots where violent and complicated your video does not do us any justice.

  17. Liberal institutions, and particularly the Australian government, should put pressure on Thailand to ignore the wrongfully issued red notice. This is a case where something like sanctions could produce a positive outcome.

  18. Would love to see you guys do something on the MLS and how it caters to the North American way of organizing sports.

  19. if he returns to pasco vale i will travel the 40 mins to an hour from my house to go watch his first game back pasco vale is an ametur club but if he gets back and plays well he might be able to get into the a league which is our (australias) national competition. it would be amazing and i hope fifa helps this guy out the fact that this kind of thing is going on is horrible all he wants is to play football and have a happy life 🙁

  20. The idea that sporting federations should be looking after these players human rights is ridiculous. As a global community we need to ask, is it acceptable to extradite people to these backwater shitholes? Should Bahrain have access to Interpol? Should Thailand be obliged to arrest him? We are enabling regimes like this every day, the people that run these countries are thugs, little more than tribal leaders who suddenly became vastly wealthy.

  21. Don't know if you had been paid or you don't know the truth about what really happened in Bahrain those players supported the terrorist groups here in Bahrain they have killed a lot of police officers and they say that they are peaceful shame on you

  22. I'm loving these insightful videos alongside your regular tactical analysis. It's important to highlight these issues as these despicable regimes try to sportswash their image. You guys are doing a great job by educating the people about these issues which are largely swept under the rug. Thank you for your truthfulness and honesty. You deserve more subs and views.

  23. CAN U MAKE A VIDEO ABOUT THE ONGOING CRISIS OF INDIAN FOOTBALL ,,,BETWEN INDIAN SUPER LEAGUE AND I-LEAGUE ABOUT UNIFIED LEAGUE

  24. This is exactly the high quality, truthful and important items that this channel covers which makes me respect your work. During the World Cup other channels had a love affair with Putin's Russia, this one challenges and presents a different points of view, keep up the great work.

  25. Thank you for shedding light on this. Videos of Bahrain police running down protesters with SUVs were circulated when the peaceful protest begun. Disgusting!

  26. i dont understand these people really ?
    so basically bahrain had everything they wanted , schools hospitals money
    and they still protest
    man arabs are so fucking stupid .

  27. I'm in Bangkok. The junta (dictatorship) state has now disabled the likes and comments on this subject on many main stream news outlets. He's literally in SHACKLES now.. seriously, cuffed his feet .. and the Thai police watched him try to get of a bus's steps.. PLEASE SHARE!

  28. To this day, Hakeem still sits in prison. Thailand is proceeding with Bahrain’s extradition request and he goes back to court in another 60 days. International knowledge of this case is vital, many famous football players are now tweeting in support of Hakeem. Thank you Tifo for making this video.

  29. Does Interpol (Australia) have to face any consequences in all this mess?
    – They put Red Notice on Hakeem, forcing Thailand to detain him at the immigration.
    – Bahrain, who previously asked the Interpol to put on the Red Notice, was notified and sent a letter to Thai government asking for Hakeem to be prosecuted in Bahrian.
    – Then the Interpol (Australia) frigging lifted the Red Notice and simply said 'Sorry, my bad, he's a refugee. He can't be put on Red Notice.'
    – Now everyone and their saints are bashing Thailand for keeping Hakeem in jail, including frigging Australian government who let him fly out of the country while tagging him a Red Notice in the first place!

    Well shit! Now, whatever Thailand decide to do with Hakeem, it will jeopardize their international relationship!

  30. I live in a neighboring country, Kuwait. Me and my family often send some supplies food and clothes to Bahraini shia’a families.. they are treated like shit because Bahrain is a puppet of Saudi Arabia that hates shia’as .

  31. Press Release : Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Statement on the Australian-Bahraini Issue concerning Mr. Hakeem Al Araibi

    1. Thailand had previously not been aware of Mr. Hakeem’s case and does not have any prejudice against him. Indeed, we would not have become involved in the issue had we not received the red notice alert from the Australian Interpol and the subsequent formal request by Bahrain for his arrest and extradition.

    2. 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.

    3. The case is now under the purview of the Court of Justice. In proceeding with the legal process, the Executive Branch cannot interfere with the judicial process. This is an internationally recognized principle upheld by all countries, including Australia.

    4. We ask that everyone refrain from prejudging the Court’s rulings and prematurely jumping to the conclusion that Thailand will extradite Mr. Hakeem back to Bahrain. The Court will consider this case thoroughly and in accordance with the due process of law and the evidence provided, including Bahrain’s arrest warrant and court order for Mr. Hakeem, who had been convicted under Bahraini laws. In their formal request, Bahrain has provided us with all relevant documents. The Office of the Attorney General has considered those documents and found that they meet the legal conditions to be filed to the Court. Thus, the Office of the Attorney General has filed the extradition request with the Court of Justice for the latter’s consideration.

    5. At the same time, the Thai Court is ready to consider all facts and evidence presented to it by Mr. Hakeem’s lawyers.

    6. Thailand does not gain anything from holding Mr. Hakeem in custody. But as a sovereign country that has legal obligations and commitments to the international community, Thailand finds itself in the middle of a case involving two countries competing for Mr. Hakeem’s custody. Under such circumstances, Thailand has no other legitimate option but to (1) cooperate in accordance with the law and (2) suggest that the two countries, both good friends of Thailand and good friends with one another, talk to each other to sort out their problems and come up with their own solution, instead of trying to find an indirect solution from Thailand, who has only become involved in this case by chance.

    7. We therefore believe that we have a legitimate right to urge Australia and Bahrain to talk to each other and find a mutually agreeable solution. No matter what that solution may be, Thailand stands ready to support it in order to achieve a result that is mutually satisfactory (win-win) for all.

    8. Thailand hopes that Australia and Bahrain will have the goodwill to earnestly work together towards finding a win-win solution to this issue. In that way, we believe that those following this case in Thailand and around the world will praise both Australia and Bahrain for their efforts.

    5 February 2019 Updated 6 February 2019

  32. Good news for you guys Thailand free him now . He will go back to Aus not for along time .BTW Aus should be ban thailand forever because many thai ppl dont wanna be friend or any relation with trouble maker too Goodbye forever

  33. Craig Foster is such a great Person who help to Free Hakeem, I salute the Australian people and the Prime minister and all who help free Hakeem. FREEHAKEEM. God bless Australia. Im from Canada.

  34. This scares me as a football fan, who knows what will happen to the beautiful game of football if corrupt football authorities take control and spread this kind of hate and unjustice just because they are born into the Royal Family with power and wealth. They will tell you to shut up and do what you are ordered within exchange of money or else you will be threatened, beaten, tortutered and taken as a prisoner. Slowly but surely, they will gain control in Europe where football is the most beautiful. It may even die because of these violent, wealthy fucks causing so much trouble in the middle east.

  35. Why the fuck are we giving citizenship to this idiot ahead of 5,000 FAKE asylum seekers?

    Not that we want to take in ANY FAKE asylum seekers

  36. Update on the story for those who wanted to know: under intense worldwide pressure, Bahrain requested that Thailand drop the extradition charges against Hakeem. He was released and has returned to Australia, where he has since been granted Australian citizenship.

  37. It is great to see Tifo Football did a video on this young man. I did know about him, but only through the article in the Blizzard.

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