Save Hakeem: a Bahrani Persecuted Footballer


 A Bahraini footballer, Hakeem al-Araibi, 26 years old, has been held in custody, for almost two months, in Thai, and would be imprisoned and tortured if sent back to Bahrain. Early in December, al-Araibi travelled to Thai, with his wife, but was arrested at the airport, after the Bahraini authorities initiated an INTERPOL Red Notice.

Al-Araibi played international football matches for Bahrain before he was arrested and tortured in 2012 for taking part in the pro-democracy peaceful demonstrations against oppression and marginalisation. In 2014, he fled to Australia, was granted political asylum by the Australian government in 2017 and has started playing for Pascoe Vale FC in Victoria's NPL.

 Hakeem is a human right defender who stood up in opposition to Bahrain's systematic oppression. He spoke publicly against Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, the President of the Asian Football Confederation, a member of Bahrain’s ruling family and cousin of the king. When the latter contested the FIFA presidential election in 2015, Hakeem was a vocal critic of him as he is reportedly said to be complicit in persecuting the Bahraini athletes, in the aftermath of 2011 unrest.

For this reason, Hakeem was convicted of vandalising a police station, which he firmly denies, and has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia. Meanwhile, #SaveHakeem is a must now and further, Hakeem must be urgently released from his crammed cell so he can again reconcile with his wife and Pascoe Vale FC, and thus live in peacefully.

Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, a son of the ruling King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, is a brigadier-general in the Bahrain army and commander of the royal guard. He occupies the most senior positions in several of the country’s sports bodies, including as president of the Olympic committee.

In one of his speech, he allegedly says, "Let’s widen participation and turn football into a true catalyst for diversity, tolerance and excellence."

         However, the Sheikh's words are opposite to him and his authorities' campaign of reprisal against the athletes. Hundreds of athletes, including Hakeem, have been subjected to his beating, torture and repression in the detention centres.

Over the past decade, there has been a sharp deterioration of the human rights situation and unacceptable restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

During the 2011 clampdown, live on Bahrain's state-run TV, he called publicly for punishing the sportspeople who had taken part in demonstrations. Sheikh Nasser literally stated, “To everyone that demands the fall of the regime […] will be punished. Whether he is an athlete, an activist or a politician, he will be punished in this time. Today is the judgment day … Bahrain is an island and there is no escape.”

On the next day, the retribution did follow and a committee of inquiry to investigate which sportspeople had taken part was established and headed by Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa. The Bahrain Football Association announced its intention to sanction more than 150 professional sportspeople. They were detained, tortured, imprisoned and many excluded from their sports, in an orchestrated campaign.

Sheikh Nasser was personally involved in beating and torturing them during the investigation proceedings. Nevertheless, the Bahraini authority has never been investigated, arrested or questioned him.

Bahrain is populated by approximately 600,000 indigenous citizens, where the Shiite majority is discriminated against. The regime fears their peaceful movement and has, since Feb. 2011, responded with increasingly thuggish persecution and bloody crackdown, using excessive and lethal force to disperse the peaceful protestors.

Hakeem's case appears to bear the marks of political persecution, nothing more, and nothing less. If Thai sent Hakeem to Bahrain, he will face the regime's drastic measures to curb the dissents, for instance:

•    Torture

•    Arbitrary detention

•    Citizenship revocation

•    Unfair trail

•    Fabricated convictions in which he could be sentenced to life or executed

•    Travel ban

•    Intimidation

•    Death threats and reprisal.

•    Use of excessive and unnecessary lethal force

•    Denial of treatment

Mahmoud Darwish, a prominent Palestinian poet, says, "Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be exiled in your homeland, in your own house, in your room."  In Bahrain, thousands of indigenous nationals are suffocating; they are literally exiled in their own homeland, in the place where their ancestors have consolidated heritage, culture and history.

Hakeem is one of the thousands of Bahraini youths who are enforced to make one of the most heartbreaking decisions in their lives, i.e. to leave their homeland, where they grew up in search of a safer place. They are forced to flee persecution, segregation, human rights violations, torture, violence, etc. for they no longer feel safe and have been targeted just because they demand democracy and reject the systematic policies of marginalisation, corruption and repression. Despite their homesickness, they are still targeted and blackmailed by the oppressive regime and their family members in Bahrain are no less.

Bahrain has long manipulated sport to whitewash its records of torture and human rights abuses. However, Hakeem has been aware of this and settled to expose the violations committed against him and his fellow athletes.

The Fédération Internationale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnels, generally referred to as FIFPro has asked its members to help secure Hakeem's release from prison. Please do the same now and pressure the release of this young promising star. Follow #SaveHakeem