Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi set to be released by Thai authorities


Thailand freed a refugee Bahraini soccer player detained for the past three months after a court dropped his case Monday, allowing him to return to Australia instead of being extradited to Bahrain, where he feared for his life.

A Thai court ordered the release of a refugee soccer player on Monday after prosecutors said they were no longer seeking his extradition to Bahrain in a case that had drawn worldwide attention.

The news will delight Al-Araibi and his supporters, who have launched a global campaign calling for his release.

Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 before being granted permanent residence in Australia, was arrested while on honeymoon in Bangkok in November.

Before the soccer player's release, Thailand's Foreign Ministry last week released a defensive statement in which it claimed that Thai authorities "would not have become involved in the issue had we not received the red notice alert from the Australian Interpol and the subsequent formal request by Bahrain for his arrest and extradition". He has been living in Melbourne, where he plays for a semi-professional team.

Former Socceroos captain and prominent broadcaster Craig Foster led the campaign to have him freed, ABC News in Australia reported.

"We have been informed that Bahrain wants to withdraw the (extradition) request. if they don't want him, we have no reason to keep him here", Chatchom Akapin, director general of the International Affairs Department told AFP, adding the process is underway to release him.

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Separately, BNA said Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa met Sunday with Thailand's foreign minister who was visiting the island.

Authorities in Bahrain, which has accused Araibi of crimes committed during the Arab Spring protests of 2011, said the country reaffirmed its right to pursue legal action against him, however.

"Many wonderful people stepped forward to help Hakeem, " he wrote Monday in comments on Twitter.

He was sentenced in absentia to 10 years for vandalising a police station.

He had been held awaiting an extradition hearing, with Alaraibi wanted by Bahrain to face outstanding vandalism charges.

Alqunun fled her family to Bangkok while on holiday in Kuwait but was detained by authorities shortly after arrival.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the London-based campaign group the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said: "This is a huge victory for the human rights movement in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia, and even the whole world".