SYDNEY (Reuters) – A refugee footballer from Bahrain who was detained in a Thai prison for more than two months at the request of the Gulf State arrived in his adopted home Australia on Tuesday, he showed television images, joy and his great relief wife.
Hakeem Al Araibi, 25, who fled from Bahrain in 2014 and received refugee status in Australia, was released from prison in Bangkok on Monday. The Bahrain authorities have accused Araibi of crimes committed during the protests of the Arab Spring of 2011, which he denied.
"Australia is my country, I do not have citizenship yet, but my country is Australia … I love Australia, I will die in Australia," Araibi said after being landed at Melbourne airport by a Thai Airways flight.
Hundreds of supporters asked to hug him, showed TV footage and applauded "Welcome home, Hakeem!". He wore the colors of Pascoe Vale, the semi-professional team that plays in Melbourne, the second largest city in Australia.
"Finally this nightmare is over," said Araibi's wife, who asked for her name not to be published to protect her safety. "My heart is now full of gratitude, only so grateful that these tears are falling from relief and joy."
Arabi Newlywed went to Thailand for his honeymoon, but was arrested on arrival in Bangkok in November, following a "red alert" of the Interpol issued at the request of Bahrain and brought to the attention of Thailand by the Australian police.
He was convicted of vandalism in a police station in Bahrain and was sentenced to 1
Araibi denied any illegal act, claiming that he was playing in a televised game at the time the crime was committed, and that he was granted asylum in Australia in 2017. Bahrain, however, sought his extradition from Thailand.
He was freed after nearly three months of dramatic diplomacy, legal maneuvers by the governments of Australia, Thailand and Bahrain, and a strong public campaign of footballers and human rights activists.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison twice wrote to his Thai counterpart to press for the release of Araibi, while Foreign Minister Marise Payne traveled to Bangkok to request freedom.
Bahrain blocked his extradition offer on Monday, reserving the right to pursue further actions against Araibi.
Craig Foster, former Australian soccer captain, also led his efforts and won the support of the Australian top scorer Tim Cahill and former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba.
"Fighting hard for not just a young player that hardly anyone knew, but a refugee who was under our protection … talks about the volumes of the character, values and pride we have as Australians," Foster he told reporters in Melbourne after embracing Araibi.
Australia announced a review of its procedures for handling Interpol red communications. He said that the case of Araibi, which he reported to the Thai authorities, should never have been released because of his refugee status.
Interpol communications are required by member countries and subsequently issued by Interpol after a compliance check, according to the Interpol website. It is therefore up to the member countries to determine their weight or legal value.
The Australian police have not commented on the case or their control over the warning, as well as confirming that they informed Thailand of the imminent Araibi incident.
International law academy Lorraine Finlay, a lecturer at the Murdoch University of Perth, said that it was unclear what the procedure followed by the Australian federal police was, apart from the fact that it seemed highly automated.
"Now that Hakeem Al Araibi is back in Australia … we must make sure that no person we offer protection is ever put back into this situation," he said.
Report by Colin Packham and Tom Westbrook in Sydney. Additional reports by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panu Wongcha-um in Bangkok .; Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait