Hakeem al-Araibi: Refugee footballer ‘to be freed’ by Thai authorities

The 25-year-old, who lives and plays in Australia, has been held for three months in a Bangkok jail before his release on Monday after Bahrain dropped its extradition case against him.

The footballer was given a rockstar welcome when he landed at Melbourne airport, with hundreds of supporters waving welcome signs.

Speaking to the crowds, he said: “I would like to say thanks to Australia.

“It’s amazing to see all of the people here and all of the Australian people and all of the media who supported me.”

Thailand had come under great pressure from Australia’s government, famous footballers, sporting bodies and human rights groups to free Mr al-Araibi.

Craig Foster, the former Australia national team captain who was spearheading the campaign for the semi-professional footballer’s release, stood alongside him as they met the crowd.

“So this is the man, probably the most famous young man in Australia right now,” Mr Foster said.

“Something of this magnitude doesn’t happen without an incredible team behind, and there’s been an amazing coalition of people, right from around the world.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote on Twitter: “I want to thank all Australians for their support in achieving this outcome.

“We are grateful to the Thai government and thank them for the way they have engaged with us to enable Hakeem to return to Australia.”

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch called his release “a triumph for rights activism and social media campaigns”, praised Thailand for “reversing a serious injustice” and said it marks: “World football’s successful entry on to the global human rights stage.”

Al-Araibi, who had been granted asylum by Australia where he played, was arrested by Thai authorities in November following an Interpol red notice which was later revoked.

At a court hearing in Bangkok a week ago, where he appeared barefoot and shackled, he pleaded with a judge “don’t send me to Bahrain”.

Speaking to Sky News before his appearance, he said he feared he would never see his wife again if he was extradited to the Gulf state.

“Maybe they will kill me but 100% I know they will beat me because they beat me when I was 17,” he said.

Al-Araibi, a critic of the Bahrain government and royal family, was convicted of committing an act of vandalism on a police station during the Arab Spring protests.

The player claims his 2014 conviction was politically motivated and he was playing in a televised football match at the time of the alleged crime.

He fled Bahrain that year and received refugee status in Australia, where he had been playing semi-professionally for the Pascoe Vale Football Club in Melbourne.

Bahrain officials denied his assertion that his life was in danger if he returned and his allegations that he was tortured.

After Mr al-Araibi was released, officials in Bahrain said the country “reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against” him.

2019-02-12T05:53:11+00:00By |

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