Refugee soccer player Hakeem al-Araibi is not being sent back to Bahrain after Thailand dropped extradition proceedings against him at the Gulf state’s request, a prosecutor said yesterday, ending a two-month detention ordeal that stirred a global outcry.
Al-Araibi, 25, a former Bahrain national youth team player, was granted refugee status in Australia after fleeing charges in the oil-rich kingdom connected to the Arab Spring protests, but he was stopped at Bangkok’s main airport at Bahrain’s request on Nov. 27 last year as he arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon.
He has been detained since in a Bangkok prison pending a court ruling on the extradition request from Bahrain — a move the soccer player had pleaded against saying he fears torture if returned.
Yesterday 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.
“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,” he said.
The Thai Corrections Department chief said he had been released from Bangkok remand into the care of the Thai Immigration Police.
The Australian government had repeatedly called for al-Araibi’s return and the case has become a cause celebre in the soccer world, with FIFA also urging the Thai soccer authorities to intervene.
Football Federation Australia last week canceled the under-23 men’s national team’s plan to hold a training camp in Thailand.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had also repeatedly pushed for his release, saying that he had written letters to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and stressed “how strongly” Australians feel about al-Araibi’s case.
Former Australia soccer captain Craig Foster, who has been leading a protest in the soccer community for al-Araibi’s freedom, expressed his “deepest gratitude” for the news.
“My thanks go to the wonderful people of Thailand for your support and to the Thai [government] for upholding international law,” Foster said on Twitter shortly after the news broke.
Calling his detention a “grave mistake,” Kasit Piromya, a board member of the lobby group ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said the soccer player’s case showed the failings of Thailand’s “outdated” laws and policies.
“Hakeem should never have been put through this ordeal in the first place,” Piromya said.
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