Published: Tue, February 12, 2019
World Media | By Cesar Oliver

Thai court orders release of refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi

Thai court orders release of refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi

Football Federation Australia have been slammed over their response to the release of Australian footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi. He was seen talking happily as he walked past the gate to board his plane.

Refugee soccer player Hakeem al-Araibi has arrived back in Australia to rapturous scenes at Melbourne's airport.

Thailand on Monday freed a jailed refugee Bahraini footballer with residency status in Australia, after Bahrain abandoned its bid to seek his extradition, and immigration officials said he was immediately driven to the airport.

It was still unclear exactly when or why the Thai Government made a decision to free him, however, it was understood Bahrain agreed to drop extradition proceedings against him after talks between Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and the Thai Foreign Minister over the weekend.

Bahrain's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the "guilty verdict against Mr.al-Araibi remains in place and Mr.al-Araibi holds the right to appeal this court verdict at Bahrain's Court of Appeal".

"I have had a smile all the time on my face and I can't stop crying - I am just so happy", said the 24-year-old, who does not wish to be named.

"Hakeem al-Araibi has left jail", Mr Morrison said in Canberra.

Monday brought a stunning about-turn from the Bahraini government, which withdrew the extradition request, said Chatchom Akapin, Director-General of the International Affairs Department at the prosecutor's office.

He was detained in November on an Interpol notice requested by Bahrain, after travelling to Thailand on honeymoon.

The pro-democracy advocate had been sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in absentia by the Bahrain regime for alleged vandalism but denied any involvement. He had been playing for a semi-professional soccer team in Melbourne before he was detained in Thailand.

Morrison thanked the Thai government for its decision to not pursue the extradition case, and said he appreciated the "constructive dialogue" with Bahrain.

The detention of Araibi, who appeared at a court hearing in shackles last week, drew global criticism, with Australian authorities and fellow footballers urging Thailand to release him.

"We trust Hakeem can now live in peace in Australia and, as a protected refugee, regain his lawful right to travel without fear", the statement said.

"This is a significant win for humanity, people everywhere standing up for good, pushing back against regimes who flout worldwide law, for human rights", Foster said.

Al-Araibi has said he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten when he was held in Bahrain previously.

The Thai Foreign Ministry later declined to give details of why Bahrain asked for the case to be dropped.

The refugee footballer was facing the possibility of being sent back to Bahrain - where human rights activists said he would nearly definitely be tortured - after being arrested in Thailand while on his honeymoon.

"We greatly respect the process that [the Thai government] had to work through and we greatly appreciate their listening to the issues", Morrison said on Monday afternoon.

She said she requested his release on bail but it was denied because the court deemed him a flight risk.

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