Refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi says he feels “famous” thanks to the international support that led to his eventual release from a Thai prison.
Mr Al-Araibi returned to Australia on Tuesday, after the director of the Thai attorney-general’s international affairs section Chatchom Akapin announced Bahrain had requested the case against him be dropped.
Speaking exclusively with former Socceroo captain and SBS commentator Craig Foster, who led the international effort to free the 25-year-old, the footballer said he now felt “famous in Australia”.
“I am famous now in Australia…I see the people, I see the shirts ‘Save Hakeem’, this was a big surprise for me,” he told Mr Foster.
“I will never forget that ‘Save Hakeem’ happened.”
Mr Al-Araibi said he was amazed a host of international footballers had joined the fight to free him from Thai detention.
“When they told me about [Giorgio] Chiellini I was so happy I went inside and told them I am famous now because the professional players talk about the case,” he said.
“Now everybody knows me, my case is ‘superstar’ now.
“I was happy, I slept comfortably.”
Chiellini, the Juventus and Italian captain, famously tweeted “I’m hoping for a quick solution”, spurring on further public support for Mr Al-Araibi.
Mr Al-Araibi said he was told not to speak badly about Thailand or Bahrain upon his release and said his main concern was getting home to his wife in Australia.
“They told me don’t say anything about the countries, not just about Thailand, but I told them I just want to go back to Australia, I am scared about Bahrain,” he said.
Mr Al-Araibi was detained at Bangkok airport on 27 November when he arrived with his wife for their honeymoon.
The arrest was made after Bahrain issued an Interpol Red Notice for his detention on November 7, accusing him of vandalising a police station in 2012.
He denies the charges and says he was playing in a televised match when the police station attack took place.
Mr Al-Araibi had been held at the Bangkok Remand Prison for two months after Bahrain said it would proceed with the extradition.
Earlier Monday, the director of the Thai attorney-general’s international affairs section Chatchom Akapin said Bahrain had requested the case be dropped.