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‘Nightmare over’ for refugee footballer

‘Nightmare over’ for refugee footballer

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Hakeem al-Araibi was detained in Thailand in November The wife of a refugee footballer freed from detention in Thailand says the couple’s nightmare is finally over.Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahraini citizen, will return home to Australia on Tuesday after being held for two months in a Bangkok prison.He was detained…


Hakeem al-AraibiImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hakeem al-Araibi was detained in Thailand in November

The wife of a refugee footballer freed from detention in Thailand says the couple’s nightmare is finally over.

Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahraini citizen, will return home to Australia on Tuesday after being held for two months in a Bangkok prison.

He was detained in November on an Interpol notice requested by Bahrain, after travelling to Thailand on honeymoon.

An international human rights campaign for his release succeeded on Monday.

The footballer’s wife told the BBC she was deeply thankful for the lobbying efforts of the Australian government and public, and the international football community.

“I have had a smile all the time on my face and I can’t stop crying – I am just so happy,” said the 24-year-old, who does not wish to be named.

“I prayed and prayed that he would come back to me, and finally our nightmare is ending.”

She had not been able to speak with her husband for weeks, and said she planned to “buy flowers and cakes” to celebrate their reunion in Melbourne.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted on Monday: “We look forward to seeing you home, Hakeem.”

The 25-year-old footballer fled to Australia from Bahrain in 2014, where he was granted political asylum.

While in Australia, he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years for vandalising a police station, charges which he has denied.

Human rights activists had warned that al-Araibi, as a vocal critic of Bahrain authorities, could face torture if sent back to the Arab kingdom.

Last month, his wife had issued a pleafor world leaders to pressure the Thai government for his release.

Lobbying was also spearheaded by Craig Foster, a former Australian national football captain and host, who rallied the international football community.

Football stars including Didier Drogba and Jamie Vardy also drew attention to the campaign.

On Monday, Thai officials told the BBC they had released al-Araibibecause Bahrain was no longer seeking his extradition.

Bahrain’s foreign ministry said that despite the end of court extradition proceedings, the footballer’s conviction still stood.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against Mr al-Araibi,” it added.

Al-Araibi is expected to be greeted by a crowd of supporters, including his football team, Pascoe Vale FC upon his return to Melbourne on Tuesday afternoon.

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