Hakeem al-Araibi was unable to see much from his Thai jail cell but beyond the prison bars that denied the refugee Bahraini footballer his freedom, the world outside – for him – was changing in a way he could never imagine. His detention and the political machinations surrounding it sparked a global campaign to free him. But that, in truth, is the problem. Al-Araibi may be a free man thanks to a worldwide effort but the tragedy of it all is that the world should never have become involved in the first place. The moment he was arrested in late November upon arriving in Bangkok for his honeymoon, a little corner in Melbourne, Australia – where he lived after gaining refugee status in 2017 and played his football – stirred. The ripples reached Sydney, which became the unofficial headquarters for the #SaveHakeem campaign. Using football as its network, the movement spread rapidly, reaching Canberra and the Prime Minister’s office, sweeping past Australia’s shores and eventually encompassing the world. Dear Scott & Bill, we've strayed from our values. Letter to @ScottMorrisonMP @billshortenmp calling for Australia’s treatment of refugees to abide by international obligations we demanded of others. We saved Hakeem now let’s save ourselves https://t.co/hnzLCHvLyS — Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) February 21, 2019 <!--//--><![CDATA[// ><!--\n\n\n//--><!]]> Protests in Melbourne, Sydney, Berlin and Vancouver, among other cities, proved to those who had the power to free Al-Araibi that the world was angry. The protesters made it clear they would do everything they could to stop Al-Araibi from being extradited to Bahrain, where he feared detention and torture because he had publicly accused a member of the royal family – Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa – of involvement in the crackdown of Bahrain athletes during the Arab spring. Craig Foster wants AFC president Al-Khalifa’s ‘reprehensible’ conduct in Hakeem al-Araibi case investigated Finally, on February 11, after more than 70 days in jail, Al-Araibi was freed, catching a flight that same night home to Melbourne where he received a hero’s welcome. It was a super human effort by many individuals and organisations, including players’ union FIFPro, the World Players Association and numerous human rights bodies. For the likes of former Australia football captain Craig Foster, who was the public face of the effort to free Al-Araibi, it’s merely the beginning. He knows the next “Hakeem” cannot rely on football. “The beauty of Hakeem’s case is that it became clear to all of Australia, all parties – greens, labour, liberals that this had nothing to do with party politics but it was about basic decency,” Foster told the South China Morning Post . “These are Australian values in helping someone in need of help. ‘He is a free man’: Thailand to release footballer Hakeem al-Araibi after Bahrain drops extradition request “It’s part of the broader conversation when it comes to football governance and the conduct or lack of conduct at various levels of football and its officials. “During the entire crisis, we were constantly referring to Fifa and AFC’s human rights policies but the commitment to that and in many cases their lack of understanding of their obligations is something that requires urgent redress. “Football itself cannot rely on having such a prominent campaign [as with Hakeem] for the next young player whose life is in peril. Football itself needs to react and act much more quickly and effectively according to its own policies. Hakeem’s case embeds those. “So in future, if something like this happens again, my role [in helping to free Hakeem] is not necessary.” Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi faces another 60 days in Thai jail after extradition hearing World governing body Fifa has adopted a human rights policy in which it is obligated to act in cases such as Al-Araibi’s. This policy automatically extends to continental bodies such as AFC, which – at face value at least – appeared apathetic towards Al-Araibi’s detention. In June last year, the Centre of Human Rights in Sport was set up in Geneva, Switzerland with the aim of trying to curb human rights abuses tied to sports and assist victims. It is headed by former Ireland president Mary Robinson. I am proud of this country . I pledge my loyalty to Australia and it’s people ️ pic.twitter.com/ApLjaAVod1 — Hakeem Alaraibi (@hakeem07746464) February 21, 2019 <!--//--><![CDATA[// ><!--\n\n\n//--><!]]> “It’s an opportunity for football to make a significant contribution to raising the compliance of international human rights laws globally, which is still a relatively new concept,” said Foster. “What Hakeem’s case demonstrated clearly is a lack of understanding right throughout the game of what the obligations are and the lack of institutional process at every level, including that of Fifa, to be able to act quickly and effectively. “There was also a political dimension which is a deep, underlying issue. But ultimate, we forced Fifa and others to act through public pressure because a young man’s life was on the line, which added a high degree of pressure during an election year. Rohingya footballers plead for release of fellow refugee Hakeem al-Araibi – and lament the ‘hypocrisy’ of their plight “So we used all the powerful levers to get him out but those levers may not be there later, for the next ‘Hakeem’. “Those who did not act or did not act appropriately must be held to account. It’s part of the process. Hakeem’s case needs a thorough review by all human rights and Fifa stakeholders to strengthen the process, to understand the remedies available and strengthen their resolve for the next case.” Foster, who used to play in Hong Kong’s First Divison for Ernest Borel, said he hoped Al-Araibi’s case will nudge Australia into looking within itself and its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. “One of the positive themes is the Australian conversation on how we treat refugees,” said Foster. “There are 23 million asylum seekers globally and Australia has an international obligation on that regard. The numbers [we take in] are always subject to policy. However, treatment should never be the subject of policy. Global protests to #SaveHakeem set for Asian Cup final day as Bahrain ramps up extradition process “Our humanitarian values as a nation have been sorely tested in recent times ... asylum seekers have really been demonised for political reasons by both parties [in Australia].” Australia has, in the past, been accused of inhuman treatment of asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and the Pacific state of Nauru. Two years ago, US special rapporteur Francois Crepeau described the offshore detentions as “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and said it damaged Australia’s otherwise strong human rights record.