Australian footballer Hakeem al-Araibi will return to Australia within the next 24 hours, after an extradition case against him in Thailand was dropped.
- Hakeem al-Araibi was detained after flying to Bangkok for his honeymoon in November
- He was jailed over allegations he vandalised a police station in Bahrain during the Arab Spring
- Former Socceroo Craig Foster led the campaign to free the 25-year-old footballer
The director-general of international affairs for the Thai Government confirmed to the ABC that the Attorney-General requested the case for Mr al-Araibi’s extradition to Bahrain be dropped.
About 9:00pm AEDT, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Mr al-Araibi was on his way to Bangkok Airport to board a flight home.
Mr Morrison said he would “be pleased to see him at home when that occurs” but admitted he was “not taking anything for granted” until Mr al-Araibi touched down.
“We would like … to thank and show our appreciation to the Thai Government for the decision that they have taken today,” Mr Morrison told reporters.
“We greatly respect the process that they have had to work through and we greatly appreciate their listening to the issues that have been raised by our Government and many others.
“These issues are complex and the relationship with the Thai Government, in particular with Prime Minister Prayut is very strong, and we thank them for the way they have engaged with us on this matter now for some period of time.”
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said there were still a number of steps to go through but if everything goes smoothly, Mr al-Araibi should be reunited with his family in Australia “in the next day”.
The 25-year-old was arrested more than two months ago when he landed at Bangkok Airport over alleged vandalism offences in his native Bahrain.
A Bahraini court had sentenced him in absentia to 10 years in prison over claims by Bahraini authorities that he and a group of protesters attacked a police station with petrol bombs during the Arab Spring uprising.
He denied the allegations and said he was tortured by his captors during his detention before fleeing to Iran when he was allowed to travel to Qatar for a football match.
He eventually made it to Australia, where he was granted refugee status and plays semi-professional football for Pascoe Vale.
In November last year, he and his wife flew to Thailand for their honeymoon, believing his Australian visa allowed him to travel safely, but they were detained immediately when they landed at Bangkok’s Airport in response to an Interpol “red notice”.
Last week he told the ABC he was “very scared” of being sent back to Bahrain, saying he had been unfairly targeted because he criticised the country’s rulers.
‘Our prayers answered’
Former Socceroos captain and prominent broadcaster Craig Foster was the public face of the campaign to have Mr al-Araibi freed, which had the backing of the Australian Government.
Late last month, Mr Morrison wrote to his Thai counterpart, Prayut Chan-o-cha, calling for the Melburnian’s release.
On Monday evening, Foster tweeted his thanks to Mr Chan-o-cha and his Government for dropping the extradition case.
Craig Foster tweet: We understand that @prayutofficial Govt and court has ruled to release Hakeem. My thanks go to the wonderful people of Thailand for your support and to Thai Govt for upholding international law. My deepest gratitude. Also to everyone who stood for what’s right
“It’s a win for those of us who are small people. It’s a win for standing up against regimes. It’s a win for saying, ‘you can’t contravene international law, we will not allow it to occur’,” Foster, who is set to meet Mr al-Araibi when he lands in Melbourne on Tuesday, said.
“And that’s just people [who did that]. It’s been an amazing movement to be involved in.”
Craig Foster tweet: Many wonderful people stepped forward to help Hakeem. They all deserve to be in front of camera now, not only me. I can’t list them, but will thank each of them in time. My thoughts are with Hakeem’s wife. Her nightmare will shortly be at an end. Our prayers answered
He said the most important thing initially was the wellbeing of Mr al-Araibi, but once he was safe and sound back home it would become about how sport and society dealt with issues of human rights.
“Football and sport has to have a very significant look at itself,” he said.
“Even great athletes feel as though they’re not capable or entitled to speak out for the life of one young man, who plays the same game.
“[It’s] been both heartening to see those who have and pretty horrific to see those who haven’t, and that has to change.
Craig Foster tweet: Flying to Melb to see everyone close to Hakeem, welcome him tomorrow. This is significant win for humanity, people everywhere standing up for good, pushing back against regimes who flout international law, for human rights. Gives us hope to help others, everywhere
“Sport contributes so much to the world and it has the opportunity to contribute much, much more, and in doing so it has to uphold human rights.”
Australian of the Year and hero of the Thai cave rescue Craig Challen, who loaned his voice to the campaign to see Mr al-Araibi freed, joined in the celebrations upon hearing the news that the case had been dropped.
“I think we were all getting a little bit pessimistic about the prospects, and at very best it was going to be months and months before anything happened, so this has caught us all by surprise, but very pleased to hear it,” he said.
“It’s a wonderful honour and opportunity to be named Australian of the Year and if I’m not going to do the best I can to help out with these issues, then it’s all a bit of a missed opportunity, so I’m going to do my best.”