SMH: Thai cave heroes join push to free refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi

Thai cave heroes Richard Harris and Craig Challen have written to Thailand’s Prime Minister calling for the release of Australian-based refugee Hakeem al-Araibi.

The two Australians of the Year, who played pivotal roles in rescuing 12 trapped boys and their football coach last year, sent a private letter in recent days as the Melbourne footballer remains detained in Bangkok and fears torture if he is sent to Bahrain.

The letter will add weight to the campaign for Araibi’s release, which includes football circles, the expatriate Gulf community in Australia and political figures from Prime Minister Scott Morrison down. However, it is understood Dr Harris and Dr Challen do not yet want the details of the letter to be made public.

Araibi has been detained in Thailand since he arrived for a honeymoon on November 27 after Bahrain issued an Interpol red notice, which he should not have been subject to as a recognised refugee.

Fatima Yazbek from the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, which has been campaigning for Araibi’s release for months, welcomed the news the heroes of the Thai cave rescue had expressed their support.

“They rescued those boys and their coach, Thais should appreciate what they’ve done,” she said. “It was such good news to wake up to. We hope the Thais take this request into consideration.”

Ms Yazbek said there was a sense of momentum in the campaign to free Araibi, with former Socceroo Craig Foster raising awareness in Australia, Thailand and Switzerland – where football’s governing body FIFA is located.

Araibi was sentenced to 10 years in jail for crimes during the Arab Spring that he denies; supporters say he earned the wrath of the royal family for speaking out about the torture he suffered before he fled, allegations that are believed to have ended the chance for Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa to lead FIFA.

Ms Yazbek said Araibi’s wife was faring “not so good” at the moment “but she’s trying to cope” and would soon resume her studies.

In a hearing last week, where he appeared in shackles, Araibi formally refused Bahrain’s extradition request. The legal challenge is expected to last months.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he would not intervene in the matter as justice needed to take its course. Prayut, as the leader of the junta that seized power in the May 2014 coup, has powers to issue sweeping edicts, but is officially nominated for the first elections in five years.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald