Hakeem Al-Araibi

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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

FIFA supports case of detained Bahraini soccer player

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it wants a soccer player who has refugee status in Australia to return to the country “at the earliest possible moment” rather than be extradited from Thailand to Bahrain.

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Former Bahrain international Hakeem Al-Araibi was detained at Bangkok airport last week. An Interpol warrant for his arrest was issued in apparent violation of rules protecting refugees.

World soccer’s ruling body FIFA says it now expects his case “to be solved in accordance with well-established international standards,” and has asked Australian soccer officials to urgently “take the matter up with their government.”

Australian authorities said last week that embassy officials in Bangkok were working on the case.

Rights activists say Al-Araibi was tortured after being arrested in 2012. He fled to Australia which gave him political asylum.

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