The Armenian government has refused to extradite a Bahraini activist who was arrested in Armenia last month after fleeing Bahrain to avoid imprisonment on what human rights groups consider politically motivated charges.
The whereabouts of Fadhel Radhi have been unknown since his release from an Armenian jail on Sunday, however. One of his Armenian lawyers suggested on Tuesday that the 25-year-old was deported to neighboring Iran.
Radhi was arrested by the Bahraini police and charged with involvement in “mass disturbances,” arson and “terrorism” in 2013, two years after the Gulf state’s ruling Sunni dynasty quelled a Shia uprising hailed by Iran. He reportedly fled the country shortly before being sentenced to seven years in prison in 2014.
Radhi was detained at Yerevan’s Zvartnots international airport on January 2 on a warrant issued by Interpol. According to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the activist planned to proceed to Germany and ask for political asylum there.
An Armenian court promptly placed Radhi under a 30-day arrest pending a decision on his extradition to be made by Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian. The latter is legally empowered to reject extradition requests submitted by foreign states.
Human rights organizations were quick to call on the authorities in Yerevan not to hand over Radhi to Bahrain, saying that the oil-rich monarchy is notorious for torturing its domestic critics and suppressing dissent.
“Bahrain has an abundantly clear history of detaining and sentencing activists, pegging unfounded charges on them, and extracting false confessions through severe torture and inhuman and degrading treatment,” about a dozen mostly Arab watchdogs said in a joint statement released on January 4.
The BCHR echoed this appeal on January 16, dismissing the charges levelled against the fugitive activist as “politically motivated” and saying that he would be at “a high risk of being tortured by the Bahraini authorities.”
Armenian human rights campaigners added their voice to these concerns. Some of them helped Radhi hire two local lawyers for his extradition battle.
The spokeswoman for the Armenian Justice Ministry, Lusine Martirosian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Tuesday that Hovannisian has rejected an extradition request received from the Bahraini authorities “through non-diplomatic channels.” She said the justice minister found “a number of flaws” in that petition and also took into account the fact that Armenia and Bahrain are not bound by extradition treaties.
Martirosian added that Radhi was set free in time for the expiry of his 30-month arrest. She could not say anything about his current whereabouts.
One of Radhi’s Armenian lawyers, Tigran Safarian, revealed, meanwhile, that neither he nor the other attorney has seen their client since his release late on Sunday. Safarian said Radhi walked free and was driven away by a civilian car in an unknown direction shortly before he was due to be greeted by his lawyers outside a Yerevan jail. They had agreed that they will take Radhi to a hotel where he would live until the Armenian authorities decide on political asylum requested by the Bahraini national, said the lawyer.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Safarian said that according to his “preliminary information” received from government sources, Radhi was “unofficially” -- and apparently willingly -- deported to Iran.
Iran, which has a cordial rapport with Armenia, had condemned the suppression of the 2011 Shia revolt in Bahrain. Relations between the two Muslim countries have been very strained since then.
Bahrain was among several Arab states that severed diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic last month out of solidarity with Saudi Arabia. Also in January, the Gulf island kingdom claimed to have caught an Iranian-linked cell plotting attacks on its territory.
Despite being at loggerheads with Tehran and hosting the U.S. Fifth Fleet, Bahrain has repeatedly faced criticism of its human rights record from Western powers in recent years. In September 2015, for example, the United States and 31 other countries cited “reports of harassment and imprisonment of persons exercising their rights to freedom of opinion.”
While being bemused by the lack of information about Radhi’s whereabouts, Armenian human rights activists voiced relief at his release from Armenian custody. Avetik Ishkhanian, a veteran campaigner leading the Armenian Helsinki Committee, said that by rebuffing the Bahraini authorities the Armenian government “acted in accordance with international law.”
“The Bahraini citizen’s extradition would have been absolutely wrong for legal and moral reasons,” said Ishkhanian.