Australians welcome dissident Bahraini soccer player
Story Code : 777539
Hakeem al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and received refugee status in Australia, had been held in custody in Thailand for more than 70 days. He was stopped and detained at a Bangkok airport in November 2018 as he arrived in the Asian state for a holiday.
Araibi was, however, released in Bangkok on Monday after Bahrain ended its extradition attempt under diplomatic pressure and international outrage.
Hundreds of his friends and supporters received the 25-year-old soccer player at the Melbourne airport on Tuesday.
Television pictures showed him walking through gates as people were cheering for him, shouting “Welcome home, Hakeem!”
Australian media said he was welcomed by a large crowd.
“Australia is my country,” Araibi told reporters at the airport. “I don’t have citizenship yet, but my country is Australia... I love Australia, I will die in Australia.”
Araibi, who plays for Melbourne soccer club Pascoe Vale FC, has lived in Australia for five years.
In Bahrain, he was accused of vandalizing a police station, but he says he was out of the country playing in a match at the time of the alleged offense. He says he was targeted over his criticism of a member of Bahrain’s ruling family.
The Manama regime had been under criticism by international rights groups for cracking down on all forms of dissent over the past years.
Thousands of anti-regime protesters have held demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the country in mid-February 2011. They are demanding that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.