Hakeem al-Araibi’s family express ‘indescribable joy’ at footballer’s release

Helen Davidson

Hakeem al-Araibi’s family has thanked the international community for securing his release from potential extradition to Bahrain, a country he fled after he was imprisoned and tortured.

In a statement provided to Guardian Australia, they said they were “heartened” to see pictures of his release, but urged the world not to turn away from those still unjustly detained in Bahrain.

Al-Araibi, a 25-year-old Bahraini refugee who has lived in Australia for five years, was released from a Thai prison on Monday after 76 days of incarceration. The shock decision by the Thai government and courts to free him brought to an end Bahrain’s attempts to have the dissident and athlete returned to them.

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“We are heartened seeing our released son Hakeem Al-Araibi’s picture; embracing freedom after more than two months,” his mother and siblings said.

“Nonetheless, this indescribable joy would be greater when Hakeem’s detained acquaintances and compatriots are freed from Bahrain’s prisons of persecution.”

Al-Araibi is expected to arrive in Melbourne on Tuesday afternoon from Thailand, where he will be reunited with his wife.

His wife, who has not wanted to be identified throughout the ordeal, told Guardian Australia she was thankful for everyone’s support. Before his departure she said she wanted him to get on the plane before she could believe he was being released.

Al-Araibi was arrested on 27 November on an erroneously issued Interpol red notice, which should never have been granted to Bahrain under clear Interpol policies designed to protect refugees from refoulement.

READ MORE: Hakeem Al-Araibi: Thailand to free Bahraini footballer

While Thailand has said Bahrain withdrew its extradition request, allowing it to petition the court for Al-Araibi’s freedom, the Gulf state has maintained his guilt as well as its “right to pursue all necessary legal actions against Mr Al-Araibi”.

Al-Araibi was sentenced to 10 years in jail in absentia for what has become a widely discredited vandalism conviction. The young footballer has said he was playing in a televised match around the time of the crime and could never have been there. He believes he was targeted amid a crackdown on athletes participating in pro-democracy protests.

“As soon as our son reach (sic) Australia, we call upon the Bahraini authorities, which unlawfully treats Hakeem as a criminal despite his innocence, to drop all the fabricated charges, repeal the court’s unfair verdict, acquit and apologise for the physical and psychological repercussion it inflicted upon Hakeem,” his family said.

Many dissidents remain imprisoned in Bahrain, where allegations and instances of mistreatment and torture have been repeatedly documented by human rights groups, and Al-Araibi’s family said they were “bitterly waiting for the world’s attention”.

“Those are imprisoned merely in retaliation for their pro-democracy demands. Their parents as well aspire to reunite with them soon,” they said.

“The outstanding fight for Hakeem’s case has averred that the continuous and effective efforts would find their way towards success.

“We and Hakeem thank you again for your effort and free stance and ask you not to forget the oppressed people and prisoners of Bahrain.”

The family thanked activists, media and human rights groups across the three nations involved and around the world who had “incredibly, and in all possible means, supported us and Hakeem to achieve this release”.

“Our special thanks to the Australian football community and Hakeem’s colleagues; particularly to the former Australia international footballer Craig Foster, who has honestly put nothing before this appalling case and has never lost any chance but to save Hakeem.

“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, O great warrior.”

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