Melbourne, Australia – Friends, family and campaigners are observing Hakeem al-Araibi’s return home to the Australian city of Melbourne after Thailand freed the refugee footballer who had been held since November in an extradition request from Bahrain.

Following his flight touched down at Melbourne Airport on Tuesday afternoon, al-Araibi was met by hundreds of supporters, including members of the soccer team Pascoe Vale and the Bahraini community in Australia.

Some sang”You’ll Never Walk Alone” because they waited.

“that I need to thank Australia. Excellent to see all of the Australian men and women, the press that encouraged me,” that the 25-year-old told reporters in the airport.

“I am more strong for this country,” he said. “Australia is the country.”

His return marks the culmination of an global campaign by prominent footballers, human rights groups and the Australian government to stop his extradition to Bahrain, in which he feared he would be tortured.

“It isn’t possible to thank everybody involved because this effort wasn’t around a single, or two or a few, it had been about thousands and thousands of people and organisations of all conscience worldwide who decided that goodness and compassion would trump evil,” Craig Foster, who played soccer for Australia and has become the surface of the #SaveHakeem campaign, in a statement.

“We fought to get a single soul since Hakeem represented everyone who suffers under tyranny andhe we aspire to build a better world,” Foster added.

Sydney FC fans demonstrating their support to Hakeem al-Araibi during a game in January [Mark Nolan/Getty Images]

‘A victory’

Yassin, a friend of al-Araibi’s in the Bahraini-Australian community that prefers not to reveal his name for fear of repercussions in Bahrain, said he was delighted that the footballer, whom he believes an”old brother, had been released.

“It’s a success for us,” he told Al Jazeera. “This is the best news I’ve heard so far.”

Yassin remembered a conversation that the two had had while his buddy was arrested and facing the danger of decades behind bars.

“He was a bit happy [in the sense] that he showed the world the cruel fact of this administration,” Yassin additional, quoting Hakeem:”I may have triggered something that will trigger a shift.”

Al-Araibi, that fled Bahrain in 2014 and had been recognized as a refugee in Australia, had been arrested by Thai police in November if he came in the nation because of his honeymoon, at the petition of this Gulf state. He was found guilty of vandalism in his absence and also given a 10-year prison sentence despite the fact he had been enjoying with a football match at the right time of the alleged offense.

“I am so excited, so pleased. We are all speechless,” Fatima Yazbek, ” a spokeswoman for your Australia-based Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights. “It’s amazing to view Hakeem released and free after all the struggle.”

Yazbek thanked all those who’d taken part in the effort to spare the footballer, such as Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne. “She had been working really tough for me personally,” she explained.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to Twitter to”thank all Australians because of their service”.

“We are grateful to the Thai authorities and thank them to the way they have engaged with us to enable Hakeem to return to Australia. We also have appreciated the constructive dialogue we have had with Bahrain to solve this,” he wrote, echoing similar statements by other state officials.

Hakeem al-Araibi around the area for Pascoe Vale, a semi-professional group in Australia’s second-biggest city. [Mark Avellino Photography/Al Jazeera]

‘Guilty verdict’

Following the jubilation at Hakeem’s liberty, Bahrain insisted that it stood with the conclusion of its own court in al-Araibi’s case.

“The guilty verdict against Mr. Al Araibi stays in position,” Bahrain’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “The Kingdom of Bahrain reaffirms its best to pursue all necessary legal actions.”

Al-Araibi was once a part of Bahrain’s national soccer team but has been jailed in November 2012 if he says he had been subjected to torture. Al-Araibi was placed and also found guilty of attacking a police station in a situation Amnesty described as unjust after he had returned to Australia. His brother is in jail was found guilty.

“That is a baseless and doubtful extradition request by the Bahraini government, who desired to penalize Hakeem due to his peaceful political perspectives,” Minar Pimple, Amnesty International’s senior manager of international operations, said in a statement. “Hakeem spent two or more weeks behind bars in Thailand if he should not have been detained for one second.”

FIFA, soccer’s governing body, stated it was”extremely pleased” with the choice to allow al-Araibi to go home, and into the”relevant public government for doing the right thing and bringing Hakeem’s ordeal to an end”.

Australian soccer said it was preparing to welcome al-Araibi home.

Pascoe Vale FC has registered al-Araibi to play in the 2019 season and his friends are making plans to celebrate his return. “I can’t wait to carry him to the Twelve Apostles,” Yassin said, speaking to one of Australia’s most famous natural wonders.


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