Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi celebrated his return to Australia after two months in jail in Thailand amid threats to return him to his native Bahrain.
Al-Araibi arrived in Melbourne to a throng of well-wishers in #SAVEHAKEEM t-shirts and anthem-singing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” early today.
He thanked all the Australian supporters. “This is my country,” he said.
Al-Araibi was detained on Nov. 27 while on honeymoon at the request of Bahraini authorities who accused him of being involved in the 2011 “Arab Spring” protests.
His arrest sparked worldwide outrage and a heated diplomatic dispute between Bahrain, Australia and Thailand that cast doubts on Interpol’s neutrality and Thailand’s treatment of refugees.
Al-Araibi said he would have been tortured and killed if he returned to Bahrain.
Thailand abruptly dropped extradition proceedings on Monday at Bahrain’s request, and after a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers.
“If they don’t want him, we have no reason to keep him here,” Chatchom Akapin, director-general of the Public Prosecutor’s Office told foreign media.
Al-Araibi claimed his ordeal resulted from his criticism of Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s ruling family.