Soccer player Hakeem al-Araibi has returned to Australia after having spent three months detained in Thailand. The 25-year-old Bahraini refugee was detained Nov. 27 by Thailand authorities at the request of Bahrain while in the Asian country on his honeymoon.
Bahrain had requested his extradition for having been convicted in absentia to 10 years in prison for vandalizing a police station, which al-Araibi has denied.
Al-Araibi fled his native country for Australia in 2014 after having been arrested and beaten during a roundup of athletes.
The Pascoe Vale FC player was released Monday following Bahrain ending its extradition request saying it was “no longer interested” in continuing the process, the Thailand attorney general office’s Chatchom Akapin said.
Arriving in Australia Monday wearing his team’s jersey, he told the crowd of about 100 people at the airport “I want to thank Australia. Australia is my home,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
He left the airport with famous Australian soccer player-cum-human rights activist Craig Foster who spearheaded a media campaign to push for his release.
“I want to thank this man (Foster), he fought too much for my case. My thanks to the media (and) all human rights (groups),” al-Araibi said.
Foster had raised the profile of al-Araibi’s case through social media, and it is the public outcry that followed and the work of human rights organizations that is largely credited for securing his release.
“I want to thank all Australians for their support in achieving this outcome,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted with a picture of al-Araibi on an airplane. “We are grateful to the Thai Government and thank them for the way they have engaged with us to enable Hakeem to return to Australia.”
Al-Araibi exited Melbourne International Airport to applause from the crowd and a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a famous soccer song.
“I will die in Australia,” al-Araibi said, “and I love Australia.”