Bahraini refugee footballer released from Thai prison
Hakeem Al-Araibi returns to Australia 77 days after his arrest on vandalism charges
A refugee footballer from Bahrain has been released from a Thai prison and returned to Australia, after Bahrain unexpectedly dropped its bid for extradition.
Hakeem Al-Araibi, who plays football for an Australian professional club based in Melbourne, was arrested in Thailand after being sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison on charges of vandalism in Bahrain.
Al-Araibi’s arrest drew “global condemnation”, The Guardian says, and sparked a campaign to have him released. He arrived home in Melbourne today, 77 days after his arrest.
“I would like to say thanks to Australia. It’s amazing to see all of the people here and all of the Australian people who supported me,” the footballer said, after he was met at Melbourne airport by hundreds of supporters.
Al-Araibi had been in Thailand for his honeymoon when Rhai police detained him due to an Interpol “red notice”. Activists working to have him freed noted that red notices are not meant to be issued against refugees.
CNN reports that Bahraini authorities say that Al-Araibi’s guilty verdict “would remain in place despite the decision to drop its extradition case”, and that the country “reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions” against him.
The 25-year-old is a “vocal critic of Bahrain authorities”, the BBC says. He fled to Australia in 2014, where he was granted political asylum.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison thanked the Thai government on Twitter, after tense negotiations between the two countries to secure Al-Araibi’s release.
“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,” Morrison said.