CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A refugee soccer player who was detained in Thailand for three months under threat of extradition to Bahrain came to the Australian capital on Thursday to thank the prime minister for his freedom.
Hakeem al-Araibi flew to Canberra on Wednesday, only a day after arriving home in Melbourne on a flight from Bangkok where he had been detained since November following an extradition application from his native Bahrain.
He came to Parliament House on Thursday morning to watch a soccer match played by lawmakers, supporters and stars of the Australian national women’s team wearing the yellow uniform of Amnesty International and the blue of al-Arabi’s Melbourne team Pascoe Vale Football Club.
The 25-year-old watched from the sidelines with Foreign Minister Marise Payne, explaining that his hamstrings remained too tight after weeks in a crowded cell to play.
Payne and Prime Minister Scott Morrison had repeatedly lobbied the Thai government on al-Araibi’s behalf.
The soccer match had been planned as a demonstration of support for al-Araibi when he faced indefinite detention. But instead, it became a celebration of his release.
Former Australia national team captain Craig Foster had been a leader in the campaign for al-Araibi’s release and played for Pascoe Vale on Thursday.
“We’re all very worried about him,” Foster said. “He’s obviously riding on incredible adrenalin and elation. ”
“I would image … in the next week or two or three, he’s going to need some help. He’s been through an incredible ordeal and I think that’s exacerbated by the fact that he was a torture survivor previously,” Foster added.
Al-Araibi was to meet Morrison and address the media at Parliament House later Thursday.
Al-Araibi, a former Bahrain national player, was detained by mistake upon arrival in Bangkok on his honeymoon. Interpol rules to not allow refugees to be deported to the countries from where they fled persecution.
Thai prosecutors on Monday submitted a request to a court to withdraw the case to extradite al-Araibi to Bahrain, where he faced a 10-year prison sentence in an arson attack that damaged a police station. He has denied those charges and says the case is politically motivated.
Prosecutors made the decision after Thailand’s foreign ministry sent their department a letter Monday indicating that Bahrain had withdrawn its request for al-Araibi, a Thai official said.
Officials in Bahrain said the country “reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against” al-Araibi.
Al-Araibi says he fled Bahrain because of political repression and that he fears torture if he returns.
By ROD McGUIRK , Associated Press