While the footballing community worldwide have rallied against the extradition of Bahraini refugee and Australian asylum recipient Hakeem Alaraibi from Thailand on the grounds that he will undoubtedly face persecution, torture, and possibly death if he is returned to Bahrain; one cannot help but notice something of a paradox in the fact that Qatar is poised to host the World Cup. How different, really, is Bahrain from Qatar?
Amnesty International cautions that “allegations of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment continue to be reported” by prisoners in Qatar; and the legal process itself remains far below a standard that ensures protection of human rights. Suspects can still be held Incommunicado, sometimes for months at a time, and indefinite detention without charge occurs regularly, particularly in cases of political dissidents.
The sports community and the Australian government have opposed Hakeem’s extradition because of the potential human rights violations he may suffer in Bahrain; but there are violations currently being committed throughout the Gulf, including Qatar, which deserve at least as much opposition.
The sad reality is that there is very little to distinguish one Gulf country from another in the area of human rights, due process, and the treatment of prisoners;. Bahrain is Qatar is UAE is Saudi Arabia.
At this moment, Joseph Sarlak, an elderly Australian citizen with a serious heart condition, is languishing in a cockroach infested prison cell in Doha; facing virtual life imprisonment over a bounced cheque. The circumstances of his case were never investigated; he was denied access to an attorney, and even denied appeal. His sentence in and of itself constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and his feeble health and lack of access to vital medication may mean that Joe will not survive his incarceration.
In their stated policy on human rights, The Fédération Internationale de Football Association states, “FIFA is committed to taking measures, based on in-depth due-diligence processes, to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through its own activities”, yet the powerful sports organization has no qualms about embracing Qatar for the 2022 World Cup; an event that will not only provide the country with a massive bonanza of tourism and investment, but also a veneer of modernity and liberal values.
It is worth wondering if Hakeem Alaraibi was one of many Qatari dissidents whose life would be in danger if he were sent back to Doha; would Fifa and the rest of the sports community speak out?
Australia has been actively supportive of Hakeem, whom the country granted asylum following his escape from Bahrain, allowing him to remain in Australia precisely because his human rights would be in jeopardy if he were sent back home. Yet Australian authorities have made no true attempt to intervene in the case of their own citizen, Joe Sarlak, in Qatar despite the fact that Joe’s human rights are violated each day he remains in prison. If Australia opposes the extradition of Hakeem to Bahrain, they should similarly object to the imprisonment of Joseph Sarlak in Qatar; both relate to the prevention of abuse.
Qatar, like the UAE, spends a great deal of money to gloss over their human rights abuses, and perhaps this is the only thing that differentiates them from Bahrain. But Western governments, businesses, and organisations like Fifa need to apply the same standards across the Gulf states that they do in their own countries.
Radha Stirling, from Australia, is founder and CEO of legal and human rights organisation Detained in Dubai, Expert Witness and respected analyst of Middle East Policy.
Ms Stirling has been a prominent advocate for human rights and judicial change and has represented numerous individuals, who have faced injustices.