FFA under fire over 'ridiculous' response to jailed footballer's release

Football Federation Australia have been slammed over their response to the release of Australian footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi.

The refugee footballer is on his way home to Australia after being released from detention in Thailand on Monday night.

After two months in a Bangkok prison the Bahraini refugee was released on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirming the news.

“Hakeem al-Araibi has left jail,” Mr Morrison said in Canberra.

“He is on his way to the airport, the next step is for him to return home.”

Bahraini refugee, Hakeem Al-Araibi leaves Thailand’s Criminal Court, in Bangkok, Thailand 04 February, 2019. (Photo by Anusak Laowilas/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Aussie football public widely rejoiced at the news, but the FFA’s response has caused some controversy.

In the wake of the news, chairman Chris Nikou thanked the Bahrain government, despite the nation declaring they didn’t endorse Al-Araibi’s release.

“We are extremely grateful to the Governments of Thailand and Bahrain for taking the decision to allow Hakeem to return to Australia,” Nikou said.

The statement has been slammed by fans, given Bahrain had said al-Araibi’s conviction remains in place and “Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against Mr al-Araibi.”

Al-Araibi was wanted by Bahrain after fleeing the country when he was charged with vandalising a police station in 2012. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail in absentia.

The Thai Foreign Ministry later declined to give details of why Bahrain asked for the case to be dropped.

However, Bahrain state media reported on Sunday that Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa had spoken on the phone with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Al-Araibi was detained at Bangkok airport on November 27 when he arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon with his wife.

Hakeem al-Araibi. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)

The arrest was made after Bahrain issued an Interpol Red Notice for his detention on November 7. Australia came under fire for passing on the notice to Thai authorities before his arrival.

He had faced at least another two months in jail after a court in Bangkok last week set down his pre-trial extradition hearing for April 22.

Al-Araibi fled Bahrain in 2014 and was granted refugee status by Australia where he plays soccer for semi-professional Melbourne club Pascoe Vale.

Support for the young footballer’s release was galvanised by former Socceroo Craig Foster with FIFA, the International Olympic Committee, and high-profile players calling for Thailand to free him.

“This is a win for humanity, for the power of citizens of the world demanding that human rights be protected,” Foster said in a statement.

with AAP