Bahraini footballer threatened with 'torture deportation' heads back to Australia

Bahraini footballer threatened with 'torture deportation' heads back to Australia
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that the Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi is on his way home to Australia, following his release from Thai prison on Monday.
3 min read
11 February, 2019
Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has been released from Thai prison today [AFP]
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that freed Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi was en route to Bangkok airport to board a flight home. Morrison's confirmation follows the Thai attorney general's request to halt Araibi's extradition to Bahrain, where it is feared he would face torture. 

A Thai court approved on Monday an attorney general's request to end efforts to extradite a Bahraini footballer who fears detention and torture in the Gulf state, Reuters reported on Monday.

Morrison said he would be "pleased to see him at home" but he "was not taking anything for granted" until the footballer arrived in Australia. The prime minister said he expected Araibi to arrive on Tuesday.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Wayne Hay claimed that Araibi was due to depart midnight Thai time on Monday on a Thai Airways flight to Melbourne. Hay reported that the footballer had cleared immigration controls in the Bangkok airport at around 6:20pm local time. 

The attorney general requested that the case against Hakeem al-Araibi be dropped on Monday, a prosecutor with knowledge of the case said, with the court agreeing to cancel any plans for his deportation.

Human rights groups who have campaigned against Araibi's deportation to Bahrain - where they feared he could be tortured - welcomed to move.

"Hakeem’s release today is a triumph for rights activism and social media campaigns," deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division Phil Robertson told the New Arab on Monday. 

"The best part is Hakeem's wife, his football club, and his fans across Australia and the world can finally see him back where he belongs - out on the field playing the beautiful game and not in any country's prison cell," said Robertson.

He said that he did not anticipate any problems with Araibi's return to Australia. 

"Today's decision is an example of the impact of solidarity with refugees, and a victory for people power," Amnesty's International's Senior Director of Global Operations Minar Pimple said in a statement.

He called Bahrain's extradition request a "baseless and cynical" attempt to "punish Hakeem for his peaceful political views".

Both Pimple and Robertson praised Thailand for respecting international law and the rights of refugees. 

Araibi, a former player in Bahrain's national football team, fled Manama in 2014 to seek asylum in Australia, where he now holds permanent resident status and plays for Pascoe Vale football club.

The footballer claims he sought asylum in Australia due to political repression and the risk of torture in his home country. Araibi begged prosecutors on 4 February "don't send me back to Bahrain".

Thailand arrested Araibi in November after he travelled to the country for his honeymoon due to an Interpol red notice issued by Bahrain, calling for his extradition for allegedly vandalising a police station during anti-government protests.

Araibi was convicted in absentia for the case but claims he was out of the country at the time competing in a football match.

He has been held in detention since November 2018 while the Thai courts deliberated as to whether to deport the footballer back to Bahrain.

His case follows the highly-publicised detention of a Saudi woman who fled to kingdom to Thailand following alleged abuse at the hands of her family.

Using social media, she highlighted her case and pleaded for action to prevent her deportation back to Saudi Arabia, where she feared for her life.

Following international outcry, Rahaf al-Qunun her deportation was stalled and she was eventually given asylum in Canada.