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Saudi woman’s case boosts campaigners’ hopes for held footballer | Australia News

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Melbourne, Australia – Pressure is growing on Thailand to allow detained footballer Hakeem al-Araibi to go home to Australia, where he was granted refugee status in 2017 after fleeing Bahrain, following a Saudi woman’s successful campaign to halt efforts to deport her from the Southeast Asian country.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne arrives in Bangkok on Thursday and has said she will push for al-Araibi to be returned to Australia.

“Mr al-Araibi was granted permanent residency by the Australian government in recognition of his status as a refugee,” Payne said in a statement before her departure.

The 25-year-old played for Bahrain’s national team before he fled the country some four years ago saying he had been tortured after being arrested in 2012.

He was arrested by Thai police in November who said they were acting on an international arrest warrant – known as an Interpol “Red Notice” – issued by Bahrain, when the footballer arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon.






Saudi teen detained in Thailand fears deportation

“Australia has an extra responsibility to move heaven and earth to get Hakeem back to Australia, precisely because Australian police were the ones to tip off the Thai authorities that there was this Interpol Red Notice,” Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Al Jazeera.

The renewed interest in al-Araibi’s case comes after Saudi asylum seeker Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, found herself facing deportation at Bangkok airport on Sunday. Alqunun, who said she risked death at the hands of her family if she were returned to Saudi Arabia, took to social media to press her case attracting global media attention as she frantically demanded to see the officials from the UN’s refugee agency.

Thai authorities eventually admitted Alqunun into the country and the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) recognised her as a refugee. Australia has said it will consider her case for asylum.

“Great news that Thailand has allowed the UN to assess Rahaf rather than sending her back to the country from which she was seeking asylum,” tweeted Radha Stirling, a human rights lawyer and CEO of advocacy group Detained in Dubai. “Thailand needs to allow Hakeem to return to Australia (and) stop Bahrain’s legal abuse.”





Hakeem al-Araibi played in the Bahrain national team before he fled his country and found asylum in Australia. [Supplied/Al Jazeera]

Sydney protest

Al-Araibi’s lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman says he has “held up very well” in detention.

The lawyer said that she has been able to pass messages back to his wife in Australia, as he cannot use a phone or email in jail.

“The only way they can [communicate with people outside] it is to write a letter,” she said. “If it’s in Thai it will take about two weeks, in English or any other language it’s even longer.”

On Thursday, protesters will gather in front of the Sydney Opera House to highlight the footballer’s prolonged detention. While Payne will be in Thailand, the demonstration also coincides with an Asian Cup match between Thailand and Bahrain in the Asian Cup, which is taking place in the United Arab Emirates.

“We will be protesting to demand serious and immediate steps from the AFC (Asian Football Confederation), Thailand and Bahrain to guarantee Hakeem’s safety,” Fatima Yazbek, a spokesperson for the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (GIDHR), the event’s organiser, told Al Jazeera.

“We think that without the pressure and the media and the football community, the Australian government wouldn’t do much.”

According to HRW’s Pearson, Thailand has a record of working with authoritarian governments to return citizens who are at risk to those countries.

“They’ve done so in the past with China,” she said. “I believe they have also done so in the past with Bahrain.” In 2015, Bangkok deported some 100 people from the persecuted Uighur Muslim minority to China on the request of Beijing.

Football diplomacy

The football community in Australia has also intensified its lobbying efforts on behalf of al-Araibi, who was playing for a local Melbourne club before he was detained.

“It’s been wonderful to see the football community respond to Hakeem’s situation and continue to advocate for one of their own,” John Didulica, chief executive officer of Professional Footballers Australia, said in a video posted on social media.

Pressure on world football’s governing body FIFA, the AFC and the governments of Bahrain and Thailand needed to continue, he said.





Hakeem al-Araibi on the field for Pascoe Vale, a team in Australia’s second-biggest city. [Mark Avellino Photography/Al Jazeera] 

For Pearson, al-Araibi’s case is a test for FIFA’s human rights policy, which it adopted in mid-2017. While the body has called for Thailand to return al-Araibi to Australia, Pearson says they could be doing more.

She would like to see FIFA send a high-level delegation to Bangkok to meet Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and press for al-Araibi’s release, highlight his case globally and mobilise players and clubs to voice their support.

“FIFA is extremely influential and it needs to put its human rights policy into practice if it is serious about protecting human rights,” she said.

The organisation released a statement in support of al-Araibi on Wednesday evening, calling for the “humane and speedy resolution” of the case.

Al-Araibi’s lawyer says she is confident that the footballer can be returned to Australia, but warned the process could take as long as a year.

“We have to respect the Thai government,” Bergman said. “They listen to the media, messages like ‘if you send Rahaf back to Saudi Arabia, she will be danger’’,” she said referencing what had happened with Alqunun. “If we are looking at a case like [al-Araibi’s], I think there is a possibility of a good outcome.”

“Let’s hope that the change of heart that the Thai government has had in Rahaf’s case equally applies in Hakeem’s case,” Pearson said.

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Ottawa announces new funding to combat online child abuse

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Ottawa has announced $22 million in funding to fight online child abuse.

Noting that police-reported incidents of child pornography in Canada increased by 288 per cent between 2010 and 2017, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the announcement Tuesday.

It follows a London meeting last week that focused on the exploitation of children between Goodale and his counterparts from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, collectively known as the Five Eyes intelligence group.

Major internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were also at the meeting and agreed to a set of rules the members of the group proposed to remove child pornography from the internet quicker.

On Tuesday, Goodale warned internet companies they had to be better, faster and more open when in comes to fighting child abuse on line.

In this Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 photo, detectives use the Cellebrite system to extract information from cellphones at the State Police facility in Hamilton Township, N.J. “Operation Safety Net,” the results of which were announced in December, netted 79 people suspected of exploiting children. (Thomas P. Costello/Asbury Park Press/Canadian Press)

“If human harm is done, if a child is terrorized for the rest of their life because of what happened to them on the internet, if there are other damages and costs, then maybe the platform that made that possible should bear the financial consequences,” Goodale said.

The government plan includes $2.1 million to intensify engagement with digital industry to develop new tools online and support effective operating principles, $4.9 million for research, public engagement, awareness and collaboration with non-governmental organizations and $15.25 million to internet child exploitation units in provincial and municipal police forces across the country.

Goodale said the strategy recognizes that technology is “increasingly facilitating the easy borderless access to vast volumes of abhorrent images.”

That, he said, makes investigations increasingly complex,

“This is a race where the course is always getting longer and more complicated and advancing into brand new areas that hadn’t been anticipated five years ago or a year ago or even a week ago,” Goodale said.

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Gas prices expected to dip in Ottawa

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If you can wait an extra day to fill up the gas tank, your bank account might thank you.

Roger McKnight of Enpro is predicting a five cent dip in gas prices Wednesday night at midnight.

This comes after a four cent drop this past Friday, just ahead of the August long weekend.

McKnight said the reason for the drop, both last week and this week, is due to comments made by US President Donald Trump. 

He says after the drop, the price will be, on average, 118.9 cents/litre in the Ottawa region.

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Oka asks Ottawa to freeze Mohawk land deal, send RCMP to Kanesatake

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The town of Oka is asking the federal and provincial governments to slap a moratorium on a proposed land grant to the local Mohawk community in Kanesatake and to establish an RCMP detachment on the First Nations territory to deal with illegal cannabis sales outlets.

The requests were contained in two resolutions adopted Tuesday night by the Oka town council.

The administration of Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon held its first public meeting since the start of the controversy that pitted the town council against the Kanesatake band council over a decision by a local promoter to give local lands to the Mohawk community.

The three resolutions are addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Quebec Premier François Legault’s government and the Kanesatake band council led by Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon.

As each resolution was read into the record, Quevillon stressed that the town of Oka was only looking to live in peaceful cohabitation with the Mohawk community.

The town also called upon Ottawa to establish a consultation process that would take into account the concerns of residents in Oka and  Kanesatake.

Quevillon’s administration also wants access to the plans detailing what lands are at the centre of negotiations between the federal government and the Mohawk community for purchase, suggesting the talks are simply a disguised form of expropriation.

“They’re giving money to (the Mohawks) to buy our land and annex it to their territory,” Quevillon said.

Despite its demands, the Oka council adopted an official statement addressed to the Kanesatake band council saying the town’s population wanted dialogue and peaceful cohabitation, with Quevillon citing the 300 years of close links between the two communities.

During the council meeting’s question period, some residents suggested that the council deal with other groups that say they are speaking for Kanesatake, including Mohawk traditionalists. Mayor Quevillon replied that the town would only deal with the band council and did so out of respect for Grand Chief Simon.

The mayor also argued that the RCMP, a federal police force, was best suited to be deployed in Kanesatake, where it would ensure the law would be respected, particularly on the issue of illegal cannabis shops.

Quevillon contended such a deployment was the only way for both communities to work together toward their mutual economic development.

Meanwhile, the apology Grand Chief Simon has said he is expecting from Quevillon for remarks he made earlier this summer about the Mohawk community in Kanesatake does not appear to be coming any time soon.

Asked by a resident if he would apologize, Quevillon left the answer to those citizens who attended the meeting, the vast majority of whom replied, “no.”

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