Monday, February 18th, 2019

Hakeem al-Araibi: Refugee footballer to return to Australia

Hakeem al-Araibi: Refugee footballer to return to Australia

  • 12 February 2019

Hakeem al-AraibiImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Hakeem al-Araibi was detained in Thailand in November

The wife of a refugee footballer freed from detention in Thailand says the couple’s nightmare is finally over.

Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahraini citizen, will return home to Australia on Tuesday after being held for two months in a Bangkok prison.

He was detained in November on an Interpol notice requested by Bahrain, after travelling to Thailand on honeymoon.

An international human rights campaign for his release succeeded on Monday.

The footballer’s wife told the BBC she was deeply thankful for the lobbying efforts of the Australian government and public, and the international football community.

“I have had a smile all the time on my face and I can’t stop crying – I am just so happy,” said the 24-year-old, who does not wish to be named.

“I prayed and prayed that he would come back to me, and finally our nightmare is ending.”

She had not been able to speak with her husband for weeks, and said she planned to “buy flowers and cakes” to celebrate their reunion in Melbourne.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted on Monday: “We look forward to seeing you home, Hakeem.”

Skip Twitter post by @ScottMorrisonMP

[1/2] Hakeem al-Araibi is on his way home to his wife and family.

I want to thank all Australians for their support in achieveing 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.

— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) February 11, 2019

End of Twitter post by @ScottMorrisonMP

The 25-year-old footballer fled to Australia from Bahrain in 2014, where he was granted political asylum.

While in Australia, he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years for vandalising a police station, charges which he has denied.

Human rights activists had warned that al-Araibi, as a vocal critic of Bahrain authorities, could face torture if sent back to the Arab kingdom.

Last month, his wife had issued a plea for world leaders to pressure the Thai government for his release.

Lobbying was also spearheaded by Craig Foster, a former Australian national football captain and host, who rallied the international football community.

Skip Twitter post by @Craig_Foster

While delighted Hakeem is free and will be with his wife today, we are just warming up because this was a fight for the soul of sport and, whilst a blow has been struck, a great battle lies ahead. Thankyou to everyone. An incredibly uplifting win for the human spirit #HakeemSaved

— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) February 11, 2019

End of Twitter post by @Craig_Foster

Football stars including Didier Drogba and Jamie Vardy also drew attention to the campaign.

On Monday, Thai officials told the BBC they had released al-Araibi because Bahrain was no longer seeking his extradition.

Bahrain’s foreign ministry said that despite the end of court extradition proceedings, the footballer’s conviction still stood.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against Mr al-Araibi,” it added.

Mr Morrison said on Monday he was thankful to Bangkok for “listening to the issues” raised by his nation.

Al-Araibi is expected to be greeted by a crowd of supporters, including his football team, Pascoe Vale FC upon his return to Melbourne on Tuesday afternoon.