KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Hakeem Al-Araibi has landed back in Melbourne from Thailand where he has been detained since last December.
A united effort of high-profile protest led by former Australia captain Craig Foster but including political, governmental and international sports federations finally achieved its desired effect.
Bangkok have quoted Thailand’s Office of the Attorney General as asking a local court to end proceedings against Al-Araibi because Bahrain has said it no longer wanted him back.
OAG foreign office chief Chatchom Akapin said: “This morning the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed us that Bahrain was no longer interested in this request.”
The 25-year-old, who holds refugee status in Australia, unwisely took his honeymoon last year in a country which is not a signatory to the relevant United Nations conventions and has a poor record on immigration issues.
Bahrain had initially sought his extradition to fulfil a jail term imposed in his absence for criminal damage to a police station.
Al-Araibi, who has said he was playing in a televised football match at the time of the incident, had feared he would be tortured as a consequence of his actions in support of the quickly-repressed pro-democracy demonstrations of 2011.
Al-Araibi has claimed that a central figure in the rounding up of sports men and women was Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of the governing royal family who is now president of the Asian Football Confederation and a vice-president of FIFA, the world governing body.
Sheikh Salman has denied all allegations of involvement.
The Australian government, world football federation FIFA and the International Olympic Committee all urged the Thai government to release Al-Araibi who had been wrongly registered as subject to an Interpol arrest warrant.
Last month a petition bearing 50,000 signatures in support of Al-Araibi was delivered to FIFA secretary-general Fatma Samoura in Zurich by Foster with the support of world players’ organisations.
Al-Araibi was granted refugee status in 2014 by Australia where he has been playing for semi-professional Pascoe Vale Football Club in Melbourne.
The one body which emerged with no credit whatsoever was the Asian confederation, especially considering that all three countries centrally involved – Australian, Bahrain and Thailand – are are all its member associations.
The AFC merely issued several luke-warm statements of general support for FIFA’s approach before finally tottering off the fence and urging the player’s release a fortnight ago.
It said: “The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is extremely pleased with the decision of the courts in Thailand to order the release of Hakeem Al Araibi and allow him to return to Australia.
The AFC has been working tirelessly with all the relevant stakeholders for several months and we thank each and everyone of those bodies for their support and commitment in bringing this matter to a positive end.”
FIFAPro, the players’ union which has supported the Save Hakeem campaign from the outset, said:
FIFPro is delighted that Hakeem al-Araibi has been released. We trust Hakeem can now live in peace in Australia and, as a protected refugee, regain his lawful right to travel without fear.
We salute the tireless campaigning of Craig Foster and Professional Footballers Australia to secure Hakeem’s release.
We also recognize the solidarity shown by scores of football players who helped raise awareness about his wrongful detention.