Hakeem-al Arabi: Thai cave diving heroes Harris and Challen call for footballer’s release | Sport

The Thailand cave rescue diving heroes and Australians of the Year, Dr Richard Harris and Dr Craig Challen, have joined the campaign to save the refugee footballer Hakeem-al Arabi, a Bahraini refugee and resident of Australia who is being detained in Bangkok.

Harris, an anaesthetist and diver from Adelaide, and Challen, a champion diver from Wangara, Western Australia, were part of the global team that freed the trapped Wild Boars football team in July 2018. They have been friends and cave diving partners for years.

The men, who stayed in the underwater Tham Luang cave system for three days, swimming multiple kilometres in hazardous conditions, have written to the prime minister of Thailand to release Al-Araibi from jail.

Richard Harris (left) and Craig Challen at the 2019 Australian of the Year awards in Canberra last month. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/EPA

According to the ABC, a letter was sent a few days ago to the Thai prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, asking him to consider freeing Al-Arabi, who is waiting for an extradition hearing to be taken back to Bahrain, which is seeking his extradition for a 10-year jail sentence which al-Araibi claims is politically motivated.

The Melbourne-based footballer was detained on 27 November by the Thai authorities when he arrived in Bangkok for his honeymoon.

Australia has demanded his release and return. He was formally granted refugee status in 2017.

Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi arrives at court in Thailand – video

On Tuesday, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, had said seeing Al-Araibi in shackles had prompted him to write to his Thai counterpart for the second time, after first writing last week to call for Al-Araibi to be sent back to Australia.

“I’ve written to him again, because I was very disturbed at the appearance of Hakeem at the hearing the other day,” Morrison had told Sky News. “He was shackled and I thought that was very upsetting and I know it would have upset many Australians.

“I’m respectfully reminding the Thai prime minister that Australians feel very strongly about this, very very strongly.”

The images, which were broadcast internationally, have also upset Thai people. Thai media is not permitted to show prisoners in restraints and local outlets including the Bangkok Post airbrushed the shackles out of pictures.

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