Published: Mon, February 11, 2019
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Thailand to free Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi

Thailand to free Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi

A Thai court has ordered the release of refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi after prosecutors said they were no longer seeking his extradition to Bahrain.

But Araibi says the case is bogus and tied to his criticism of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's ruling family.

The surprise decision on Monday ends more than 70 days of detention and global outcry over Bahrain's attempts to return the 25-year-old dissident refugee.

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

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Refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi in Bangkok. He has been living in Melbourne, where he plays for a semi-professional soccer team.

Bahrain wanted him returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence he received in absentia in 2014 for an arson attack that damaged a police station, which he denies. Bahrain has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.

The pity is, the past two months of detention and fears he would be tortured on return to Bahrain could have all been avoided.

The Bangkok court previously set an April 22 date for the next hearing.

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"We had a phone call from the Foreign Affairs Ministry this morning and they said Bahrain doesn't want him anymore", Chatchom told BBC. "It is a commitment enshrined in our human rights policy", he said.

Foreign minister Marise Payne said there were still "a number of steps to go in this process" but said al-Araibi would hopefully be back in Australia in the next day or so.

He said Federation Internationale de Football Association has not discussed imposing sanctions on either Bahrain or Thailand over the case. She said "a great deal" of work had gone on behind the scenes.

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