It’s hard to imagine how someone could be found guilty of committing vandalism when they’re playing soccer on TV. But in Bahrain’s courts, it seems, anything is possible.
Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi was sentenced to 10 years jail in absentia back in 2012 for supposedly vandalising a police station. Problem is, there is televised footage of al–Araibi playing in a football game just minutes before the alleged crime occurred.
After being detained for over two months in Bangkok Remand prison, awaiting his extradition trial hearing scheduled for 22 April, Thai authorities dropped all charges against him — which they administered based on Interpol Red Notice protocol.
Al-Araibi will have touched down in Melbourne sometime today.
A sudden and unexpected release
As the Australian Associated Press reports, Chatchom Akapin, an official at the Thai attorney general’s office, says Bahrain wanted the case dropped after Thailand had sought al–Araibi’s extradition.
Chatchom told BBC Thai it was as simple as receiving ‘a phone call from the Foreign Affairs Ministry…they said Bahrain doesn’t want him anymore’.
And Bahrain state media did report over the weekend a phone call between their Prime Minister, Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, and Thai Prime Minister, General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Details haven’t been revealed as to what caused this sudden change of heart after seven years of chasing. And the Thai Foreign Ministry are yet to reveal anything they know about the matter.
After his release, however, Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the ‘guilty verdict against Mr al-Araibi remains in place’ and that the country can still ‘pursue all necessary legal actions against him’.
‘Mr al-Araibi holds the right to appeal this court verdict,’ the Foreign Ministry added.
But while there is still uncertainty on this front, there’s confirmation that al–Araibi is in fact returning to Australia, at least for now.
According to AAP, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in Canberra:
‘Hakeem al-Araibi has left jail.
‘He is on his way to the airport, the next step is for him to return home.’
Thailand appreciated for the decision
Morrison thanked Thailand for going ahead with al–Araibi’s release, which Morrison had been trying to achieve through intense lobbying from the Australian government, global human rights groups, sporting bodies and the public.
‘We greatly appreciate their listening to the issues that have been raised by our government and many others who have raised this case,’ Mr Morrison said.
Al-Araibi was given refugee status in Australia in 2014. He plays for the semi-professional Melbourne soccer club Pascoe Vale.
Morrison continued his thanks on Twitter on Monday:
‘I want to thank all Australians for their support in achieveing [sic] this outcome. 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…
‘…We have also appreciated the constructive dialogue we’ve had with Bahrain to resolve this. We look forward to seeing you home, Hakeem.’
And Socceroo Craig Foster initiated support from FIFA, the International Olympic Committee and other high-profile football players to collectively call for al–Araibi’s release from Thailand.
He wrote on Twitter:
‘Many wonderful people stepped forward to help Hakeem.
‘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.’
The thanks continues
The praise didn’t stop there.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten shared the PM’s sentiment, also on Twitter:
‘The right decision — Hakeem is coming home. Looking forward to seeing you back with your family and joining the @pvfc_official team on the field. Thank you to the Thai authorities for understanding our concerns & the Thai court for respecting Hakeem’s right to return to Australia.’
And chairman of Football Federation Australia, Chris Nikou, said ‘the football family looks forward to welcoming Hakeem home and providing him with ongoing support after such a difficult period.’
And according to AAP, Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei from the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said the release was a huge victory for the human rights movement not only in Bahrainbut also the rest of the world.
‘Hakeem’s ordeal ended after 70 days when there was a clear public stance and solidarity movement. The football community, the human rights movement and all of those who dedicated their time and efforts to end this injustice were rewarded.’
Needless to say, we’re happy he’s home.
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