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Thailand frees refugee Hakeem al-Araibi

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Hakeem Al-Araibi has been freed by Thailand, as Bahrain dropped its extradition request for the refugee soccer player.

Al-Araibi, 25, is a refugee in Australia after fleeing his homeland of Bahrain in 2014.

He was held in Bangkok in November after traveling to Thailand on his honeymoon, as Bahrain had sent out an Interpol notice to detain Al-Araibi.

The former player for the Bahrain national team was granted political asylum in Australia and if he was extradited to Bahrain many feared he would be subjected to torture due to his criticism of the government.

Bahrain want him to serve a 10-year prison sentence for his alleged involvement in vandalism of a police station.

Al-Araibi denies the charge and says that he was previously blindfolded and beaten when held in Bahrain and believes he has been targeted due to his Shiite faith and because his brother is involved in politics in the Middle East country.

Craig Foster, a former Australian national team player and current broadcaster, has led the protests for Al-Araibi to be freed as the likes of Didier Drogba and Jamie Vardy have also supported the cause.

Australian rallies call for Thais to free Bahraini refugee

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SYDNEY (AP) Scores of demonstrators rallied in Australia’s two largest cities on Friday to demand that Thailand release a detained Bahraini soccer player who has refugee status in Australia.

The demonstrations outside the Sydney Opera House and in Melbourne’s Federation Square opposed Hakeem al-Araibi’s potential extradition to Bahrain.

“This is a young man who has been tortured by a country you are working with and are contemplating sending him back to,” former Australian soccer team leader Craig Foster told the Sydney crowd in comments directed at Thailand.

The rallies focused on Thailand and Indonesia’s proposed joint bid for Association of Southeast Asian Nations to host the World Cup in 2034.

“If you want to host the World Cup, you must allow the free transit of players and officials through your country,” Foster said.

The Melbourne crowd chanted “save Hakeem” while Professional Footballers Australia chief executive John Didulica implored Thailand to remember Australia’s help in rescuing 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded Thai cave in July.

The rallies also called for FIFA, soccer’s governing body, to consider suspending Bahrain from future competitions.

“You cannot have the privileges of the international community if you are not prepared to live by its rules or behave by its standards,” Didulica said.

The former Bahraini team player says he fled political repression in Bahrain. He had been sentenced there in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for vandalizing a police station, which he denies.

Al-Araibi had been living in Melbourne and played for a semi-professional soccer team. The 25-year-old was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November and a court ruled in December he could be held for 60 days.

Thailand expects to decide within days whether to proceed with extradition to Bahrain.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews wrote a letter to the footballer to say “stay strong, mate. We will get you home.”

IOC backs FIFA’s calls for Bahraini player to be released

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The International Olympic Committee has backed FIFA’s calls for a Bahraini soccer player to be allowed to return to Australia from Thailand where he is detention while being pursued for extradition by Bahrain.

But Asian soccer’s leadership is declining to publicly back the campaign to secure the release of Hakeem al-Araibi, who has refugee status in Australia.

The IOC said its president, Thomas Bach, “has personally discussed this worrying situation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.”

FIFA asked the Thai government earlier this week to ensure al-Araibi was released at the “earliest possible moment.”

The IOC said its “full support for the FIFA actions in order to find a solution based on `basic human and humanitarian values”‘ has been conveyed to the Thai government by IOC member Khunying Patama Leeswadtraku.

By contrast, the Asian Football Confederation only says it “continues to work with FIFA … to find a solution.” In emails, AFC spokesman Colin Gibson would not say what the governing body believes the solution should be, specifically declining to back calls for al-Araibi’s return to Australia.

An AFC statement said Senior Vice President Praful Patel is handling the matter and not President Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s royal family, to prevent any “conflict of interest.”

Al-Araibi has said he was tortured in Bahrain after his 2012 arrest and fled in 2014 to Australia, which granted him political asylum in 2017 and where he now plays for Melbourne’s Pascoe Vale Football Club.

Bahrain wants its former national team player returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence that was handed down in absentia after he was accused of vandalizing a police station – a charge he denies.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Asian Cup: Qatar, UAE stun South Korea, Australia to reach semifinals (video)

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It was a day of huge shocks in the 2019 Asian Cup, as two soccer minnows reached the semifinal stage and one of them will be in the final on Feb. 1.

In Qatar’s case, it was the first time they’ve reached the final four of this tournament in their history. Qatar is currently 93rd in FIFA’s world rankings.

[ MORE: Latest Asian Cup news ]

Qatar and hosts UAE edged by Asian Football Confederation (AFC) giants South Korea and Australia respectively, as a single goal in the second half of each game did the damage.

Due to their injury issues, Tottenham Hotspur will be very happy that South Korean captain Heung-Min Son is heading home as he could now be available for their Premier League clash with Watford on Wednesday. While hosts UAE stunned reigning champs Australia in front of a jubilant home crowd in Abu Dhabi.

Below is a brief recap on what happened in the two quarterfinals on Thursday, as Qatar and UAE will now play each other for a place in the final with Iran and Japan clashing in the other semifinal.


Qatar 1-0 South Korea
The hosts for the 2022 World Cup reached their first-ever Asian Cup semifinal in stunning fashion, as they knocked out red-hot favorites South Korea. Captained by Heung-min Son, the Koreans had the majority of the play but couldn’t break through. Then Abdulaziz Hatem struck a wonderful effort from distance which sent Qatar into the final four. South Korea did score a few moments after Hatem’s opener, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside. Spurs sent out a message of commiseration for Son, but we all know they are delighted to have him back after the injuries to Harry Kane and Dele Alli over the past two weeks.


United Arab Emirates 1-0 Australia
The local hero Ali Mabkhout scored the winner with 22 minutes to go, and Australia had no answer. The reigning champs are out. Al-Jazira striker Mabkhout took his tally at the tournament to four goals as he latched onto a poor back pass from Degenek, rounded Mat Ryan and scored. Another PL club will benefit from Australia’s unexpected early exit, as Brighton will get starting goalkeeper Ryan back. Take a look below at the moment the UAE made it through to their second-straight Asian Cup semifinal, as Mabkhout played the hero in his hometown.

Mabil: Memorable celebration was to support mental health

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It turns out there was a bit more to say about the outstanding goal from Australia’s Awer Mabil at the Asian Cup, thanks to his celebration.

Mabil held his hand over his mouth and two fingers in front of his forehead after scoring the left-footed rip, and said his idea is to help spread the word that it’s okay to talk about mental health issues.

[ MORE: 2019 Asian Cup news ]

The two fingers represent peace to the mind, while Mabil says the covering of the mouth is a plea to speak freely. From the BBC:

“The reason [people] go quiet is mainly because they don’t know what the reaction is going to be from the mainstream society,” he said.

“A lot of people worry about what others think but I honestly think you should not be afraid of what others think. Those people who are afraid to open up, this is for them, for them to open up and make them feel this is okay.”

Mabil, 23, plays for Danish power Midtjylland, where has five goals and nine assists this season.

The BBC notes that Mabil was born at a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to Australia as a child as part of a resettlement program.