Freed Bahraini footballer heads back to Australia

Former national football player of Bahrain, Hakeem al-Araibi, above (Photo credit: Amnesty International), was heading back to Australia on Monday following his release after spending two-and-a-half months in a Bangkok jail that sparked international outrage.

Al-Araibi was freed by a Thai Criminal Court after Bahraini authorities informed the Attorney General’s Office his extradition was no longer sought.

Later, Bahrain said it was seeking al-Araibi’s extradition from Australia.

The kingdom’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, met Australia’s ambassador to Bahrain Ridwaan Jadwat and presented him with relevant papers for al-Araibi’s extradition.

Al Khalifa said such deportation cases would not affect the ties between the two countries.

Al-Araibi must appear before a Bahraini court to appeal the sentence, the minister said.

So far, Bahrain’s foreign ministry has not confirmed the statement by Thai authorities that Manama had withdrawn its extradition request.

Al-Araibi was detained at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport in late November after Bahraini authorities issued a warrant for his arrest.

Al-Araibi was convicted in absentia in 2014 on charges of attacking a police station in Bahrain in 2012, a charge he denies.

Al-Araibi said he was tortured for criticising a member of the royal family.

Two years later, he fled to Australia which recognised him as a refugee and granted him permanent residency in 2017.

Al-Araibi’s detention in Bangkok sparked public outrage in Australia and abroad with the hashtag #SaveHakeem trending for weeks.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the footballer’s release and thanked the Thai government for the decision.

 Minar Pimple, Amnesty International’s senior director of global operations, called it a victory for people power. Over 135,000 Amnesty supporters joined the global call to free Hakeem.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy called it a huge victory for the human rights movement in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia, and even the whole world.

Alwadaei said the fight should continue to free all political prisoners who languish in Bahrain’s prisons.