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‘A victory!’: Jubilation as freed footballer returns to Australia | Thailand News

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Melbourne, Australia – Friends, family and campaigners are celebrating Hakeem al-Araibi’s return home to the Australian city of Melbourne, after Thailand freed the refugee footballer who had been held since November on an extradition request from Bahrain.

After his flight touched down at Melbourne Airport on Tuesday afternoon, al-Araibi was met by hundreds of supporters, including members of his football club Pascoe Vale and the Bahraini community in Australia.

Some sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as they waited.

“I want to thank to Australia. Amazing to see all the Australian people, the media that supported me,” the 25-year-old told reporters at the airport.

“I will be more strong for this country,” he said. “Australia is my country.”

His return marks the culmination of an international campaign by prominent footballers, human rights groups and the Australian government to halt his extradition to Bahrain, where he feared he would be tortured.

“It is not possible to thank everyone involved because this campaign was not about one, or two or a handful, it was about hundreds of thousands of people and organisations of conscience worldwide who decided that goodness and compassion would trump evil,” Craig Foster, who once played football for Australia and is now the face of the #SaveHakeem campaign, in a statement.

“We fought for one soul because Hakeem represented everyone who suffers under tyranny and, through him, we hope to build a better world,” Foster added.





Sydney FC fans showing their support for Hakeem al-Araibi during a match in January [Mark Nolan/Getty Images]

‘A victory’

Yassin, a close friend of al-Araibi’s in the Bahraini-Australian community who prefers not to reveal his name for fear of repercussions in Bahrain, said he delighted that the footballer, whom he considers an “older brother, had been released.

“It’s a victory for us,” he told Al Jazeera. “This is the best news I’ve heard so far.”

Yassin recalled a conversation the two had had while his friend was detained and facing the threat of years behind bars.

“He was a bit happy [in the sense] that he showed the world the cruel reality of this government,” Yassin added, quoting Hakeem: “I might have sparked something that will trigger a change.”

Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and had been recognised as a refugee in Australia, was arrested by Thai authorities in November when he arrived in the country for his honeymoon, at the request of the Gulf state. He had been found guilty of vandalism in his absence and given a 10-year prison term despite the fact he had been playing a football match at the time of the alleged crime.

“I’m so excited, so happy. We are all speechless,” Fatima Yazbek, a spokeswoman for the Australia-based Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights. “It’s incredible to see Hakeem released and free after all the struggle.”

Yazbek thanked all those who had taken part in the campaign to free the footballer, including Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne. “She was working very hard for him,” she said.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to Twitter to “thank all Australians for their support”.

“We are grateful to the Thai government and thank them for the way they have engaged with us to enable Hakeem to return to Australia. We have also appreciated the constructive dialogue we’ve had with Bahrain to resolve this,” he wrote, echoing similar statements by other state officials.





Hakeem al-Araibi on the field for Pascoe Vale, a semi-professional team in Australia’s second-biggest city. [Mark Avellino Photography/Al Jazeera]

‘Guilty verdict’

Amid the jubilation at Hakeem’s freedom, Bahrain insisted that it stood by the decision of its own court in al-Araibi’s case.

“The guilty verdict against Mr. Al Araibi remains in place,” Bahrain’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “The Kingdom of Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions.”

Al-Araibi was once a member of Bahrain’s national football team, but was detained in November 2012 when he says he was subjected to torture. After he had fled to Australia, al-Araibi was put on trial in his absence and found guilty of attacking a police station in a case Amnesty described as unfair. His brother is currently in prison having been found guilty of the same charge.

“This was a baseless and cynical extradition request from the Bahraini authorities, who wanted to punish Hakeem for his peaceful political views,” Minar Pimple, Amnesty International’s senior director of global operations, said in a statement. “Hakeem spent more than two months behind bars in Thailand when he should not have been detained for a single second.”

FIFA, football’s governing body, said it was “extremely pleased” with the decision to allow al-Araibi to return home, and to the “relevant public authorities for doing the right thing and bringing Hakeem’s ordeal to an end”.

Australian football said it was preparing to welcome al-Araibi home.

Pascoe Vale FC has already registered al-Araibi to play in the 2019 season and his friends are making plans to celebrate his return. “I can’t wait to take him to the Twelve Apostles,” Yassin said, referring to one of Australia’s most famous natural wonders.

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Ottawa announces new funding to combat online child abuse

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Ottawa has announced $22 million in funding to fight online child abuse.

Noting that police-reported incidents of child pornography in Canada increased by 288 per cent between 2010 and 2017, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the announcement Tuesday.

It follows a London meeting last week that focused on the exploitation of children between Goodale and his counterparts from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, collectively known as the Five Eyes intelligence group.

Major internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were also at the meeting and agreed to a set of rules the members of the group proposed to remove child pornography from the internet quicker.

On Tuesday, Goodale warned internet companies they had to be better, faster and more open when in comes to fighting child abuse on line.

In this Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 photo, detectives use the Cellebrite system to extract information from cellphones at the State Police facility in Hamilton Township, N.J. “Operation Safety Net,” the results of which were announced in December, netted 79 people suspected of exploiting children. (Thomas P. Costello/Asbury Park Press/Canadian Press)

“If human harm is done, if a child is terrorized for the rest of their life because of what happened to them on the internet, if there are other damages and costs, then maybe the platform that made that possible should bear the financial consequences,” Goodale said.

The government plan includes $2.1 million to intensify engagement with digital industry to develop new tools online and support effective operating principles, $4.9 million for research, public engagement, awareness and collaboration with non-governmental organizations and $15.25 million to internet child exploitation units in provincial and municipal police forces across the country.

Goodale said the strategy recognizes that technology is “increasingly facilitating the easy borderless access to vast volumes of abhorrent images.”

That, he said, makes investigations increasingly complex,

“This is a race where the course is always getting longer and more complicated and advancing into brand new areas that hadn’t been anticipated five years ago or a year ago or even a week ago,” Goodale said.

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Gas prices expected to dip in Ottawa

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If you can wait an extra day to fill up the gas tank, your bank account might thank you.

Roger McKnight of Enpro is predicting a five cent dip in gas prices Wednesday night at midnight.

This comes after a four cent drop this past Friday, just ahead of the August long weekend.

McKnight said the reason for the drop, both last week and this week, is due to comments made by US President Donald Trump. 

He says after the drop, the price will be, on average, 118.9 cents/litre in the Ottawa region.

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Oka asks Ottawa to freeze Mohawk land deal, send RCMP to Kanesatake

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The town of Oka is asking the federal and provincial governments to slap a moratorium on a proposed land grant to the local Mohawk community in Kanesatake and to establish an RCMP detachment on the First Nations territory to deal with illegal cannabis sales outlets.

The requests were contained in two resolutions adopted Tuesday night by the Oka town council.

The administration of Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon held its first public meeting since the start of the controversy that pitted the town council against the Kanesatake band council over a decision by a local promoter to give local lands to the Mohawk community.

The three resolutions are addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Quebec Premier François Legault’s government and the Kanesatake band council led by Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon.

As each resolution was read into the record, Quevillon stressed that the town of Oka was only looking to live in peaceful cohabitation with the Mohawk community.

The town also called upon Ottawa to establish a consultation process that would take into account the concerns of residents in Oka and  Kanesatake.

Quevillon’s administration also wants access to the plans detailing what lands are at the centre of negotiations between the federal government and the Mohawk community for purchase, suggesting the talks are simply a disguised form of expropriation.

“They’re giving money to (the Mohawks) to buy our land and annex it to their territory,” Quevillon said.

Despite its demands, the Oka council adopted an official statement addressed to the Kanesatake band council saying the town’s population wanted dialogue and peaceful cohabitation, with Quevillon citing the 300 years of close links between the two communities.

During the council meeting’s question period, some residents suggested that the council deal with other groups that say they are speaking for Kanesatake, including Mohawk traditionalists. Mayor Quevillon replied that the town would only deal with the band council and did so out of respect for Grand Chief Simon.

The mayor also argued that the RCMP, a federal police force, was best suited to be deployed in Kanesatake, where it would ensure the law would be respected, particularly on the issue of illegal cannabis shops.

Quevillon contended such a deployment was the only way for both communities to work together toward their mutual economic development.

Meanwhile, the apology Grand Chief Simon has said he is expecting from Quevillon for remarks he made earlier this summer about the Mohawk community in Kanesatake does not appear to be coming any time soon.

Asked by a resident if he would apologize, Quevillon left the answer to those citizens who attended the meeting, the vast majority of whom replied, “no.”

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