Hakeem al-Araibi: Former Portsmouth midfielder Craig Foster plays key role in freeing refugee footballer from Thailand

A FORMER Pompey midfielder has played a key role in helping to free a refugee and football player from jail in Thailand.

Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 1:27 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 2:42 pm
Ex-Pompey player Craig Foster played a key role in helping to free Hakeem Al-Araibi, who returned to Australia today. Picture: David Crosling/AAP Image via AP

Craig Foster, who made 19 appearances for the Blues between 1998 and 1999 scoring four goals, has been campaigning for the release of Hakeem al-Araibi since his arrest in November last year. 

On the news that the refugee would be released, Mr Foster tweeted: ‘While delighted Hakeem is free and will be with his wife today, we are just warming up because this was a fight for the soul of sport and, whilst a blow has been struck, a great battle lies ahead. Thankyou to everyone.

‘An incredibly uplifting win for the human spirit.’

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Craig Foster scores against Aston Villa while playing for Pompey in 1998

Mr al-Araibi fled to Australia in 2014 from his native Bahrain and was granted refugee status by the Australian government. 

He had been critical of the Bahrain government, speaking out against the persecution and torture of other footballers who had demonstrated during the uprising in 2011. 

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In 2012, he was accused of vandalising a police station despite playing in a live televised football match at the time of the alleged crime and was convicted in his absence after fleeing the country. 

Mr al-Araibi, who plays for Pascoe Vale Football Club in Melbourne, was detained after arriving in Bangkok for his honeymoon in November 2018 at the request of Bahrain relayed through Interpol. 

Since the arrest late last year Thailand has come under great pressure from Australia's government, sporting bodies and human rights groups to free Mr al-Araibi. 

With former Pompey midfielder and ex-Australian national team captain Craig Foster has been leading the campaign to get Mr al-Araibi freed. 

He said he could not sleep until he received word from Bangkok that Mr al-Araibi's flight had left.

Mr al-Araibi was given a celebrity welcome as his flight landed at Melbourne Airport on Tuesday and Mr Foster was at his side with an arm around the footballer as they faced the crowd. 

‘So this is the man, probably the most famous young man in Australia right now,’ Mr Foster said.

‘Something of this magnitude doesn't happen without an incredible team behind, and there's been an amazing coalition of people, right from around the world.’ 

Mr al-Araibi told the cheering crowd: ‘I would like to say thanks to Australia.

‘It's amazing to see all of the people here and all of the Australian people and all of the media who supported me.’ 

As part of his campaign to get Mr al-Araibi freed, Mr Foster travelled to Switzerland with a petition signed by 50,000 and spoke to FIFA’s general secretary Fatma Samoura on January 29. 

He also made trips to Thailand to speak with the imprisoned man's legal team and also visited Mr al-Araibi in prison. 

Thai prosecutors on Monday submitted a request to a court to withdraw the case to extradite Mr al-Araibi to Bahrain, where he faces a 10-year prison sentence for an alleged arson attack that damaged a police station.

He has denied those charges and says the case is politically motivated.

Prosecutors made the decision after Thailand's foreign ministry sent their department a letter on Monday indicating that Bahrain had withdrawn its request for Mr al-Araibi, a Thai official said.

Officials in Bahrain said the country ‘reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against’ Mr al-Araibi.