Refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi has returned home to a celebrity welcome in Australia hours after the threat of extradition to Bahrain was lifted.
Hundreds of supporters carrying welcome signs were waiting at Melbourne Airport as Al-Araibi arrived on a commercial flight direct from Thailand following his three-month detention in Bangkok while on honeymoon.
Former Australia captain Craig Foster has been leading the campaign for Mr Al-Araibi’s release, who had been the subject of an extradition request to Bahrain where he faces a ten-year prison sentence for an alleged arson attack that damaged a police station.
Al-Araibi has always denied the charges, maintaining the case against him is politically motivated.
On arrival in Melbourne, Al-Araibi 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, sporting bodies and human rights groups to send Mr former Bahrain captain Al-Araibi back to Australia, where he has refugee status and plays semi-professional football for Pascoe Vale.
Foster was by Al-Araibi’s side with an arm around the footballer as they faced the crowd.
“So this is the man, probably the most famous young man in Australia right now,” Foster said.
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 pic.twitter.com/BO9mlgvKCa
— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) February 11, 2019
“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, who wrote twice to his Thai counterpart Prayuth Chan-ocha in a bid to secure Mr al-Araibi’s freedom, thanked Australians as well as Thai authorities.
“I want to thank all Australians for their support in achieving this outcome,” Mr Morrison tweeted.
“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,” he added.
Thai prosecutors withdrew the case against Al-Araibi after Thailand’s foreign ministry sent their department a letter indicating that Bahrain had withdrawn its extradition request.
Officials in Bahrain said the country “reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against” Mr Al-Araibi.