Australian Story: Oct 28

On Monday’s Australian Story, Craig Foster and Hakeem Al-Araibi reveal the full story of an extraordinary campaign to rescue the footballer from prison in Thailand, and how close it came to disaster.

This episode is introduced by Anthony LaPaglia.

The dramatic story of Craig Foster – the SBS football pundit – and Hakeem Al-Araibi, the Bahraini refugee he helped to rescue from prison in Thailand, is told on Australian television for the first time next Monday.

Both men share a common passion – football. Both men played for their country. One went on to become a celebrated broadcaster and football analyst, the other fled to Australia after being imprisoned, tortured and convicted of a crime which, the evidence indicated, he could not have committed.

When Hakeem Al-Araibi went on honeymoon to Thailand last year, his trip turned into a living nightmare. After being arrested on arrival, he spent 77 days locked up, as Bahrain submitted an application for his extradition.

“He feared being imprisoned or worse,” says Alex Engel-Mallon, the driving force behind the #SaveHakeem campaign for Amnesty International.

But Thailand and Bahrain hadn’t counted on the drive and determination of Craig Foster, a man driven by a sense of duty to protect his fellow footballers, and a deep abhorrence of injustice. “Here you have a guy, ex-Socceroo captain, media broadcaster, that puts his life on hold for someone who he’s never met,” says Alex Engel-Mallon.

“If you were to go to war tomorrow, I’ll tell you now that you will want Craig Foster fighting for you,” his long-time SBS colleague, Lucy Zelic says.

In the darkest days of the campaign, Craig Foster flew to Bangkok to visit Hakeem in prison, where he called on football’s world governing body, FIFA, to do more. Not content with that, he got on a plane to Zurich. Showing footage filmed at the time, Australian Story tells the dramatic tale of how that day unfolded.

“You don’t just rock up to FIFA and demand to see the Secretary General. That doesn’t happen. Unprecedented. And Foz said, I’m doing it,” recalls John Didulica, chief executive of the Australian football players’ union, PFA.

When Hakeem Al-Araibi was escorted to court in shackles, Craig Foster was there too, speaking out. The pictures spread around the world, and it would prove to be the turning point for the campaign. Seven days later, Thailand announced Hakeem would be freed. He returned home to a rapturous welcome.

“To see Hakeem and Foz come together in that moment, is something that I will never forget. It was this culmination of one guy’s tragedy, and another guy’s inspiration,” recalls John Didulica.

8pm Monday October 28 on ABC.

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