Thailand frees Bahraini refugee footballer

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Bangkok, Feb 11 (IANS) Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, whose detention in Thailand sparked an outcry, was released from prison on Monday after Manama withdrew its extradition request.

Al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain’s national football team, fled his home country for Australia in 2014 after he was accused of vandalising a police station. He was granted political asylum in Australia.

He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in absentia and Bahrain applied to Thailand for his extradition so that he could serve the sentence.

Al-Araibi was detained in Bangkok in November on an Interpol notice requested by Bahrain. He had travelled to the Thai capital on honeymoon.

Al-Araibi denies the charges and human rights activists say he could face torture if sent back to Bahrain. He has also been a vocal critic of Bahraini authorities, the BBC reported.

His case had been taken up by high-profile footballers including Didier Drogba and Jamie Vardy calling for his release. The Australian government, FIFA and the International Olympic Committee all lobbied Thailand.

Thailand’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG) asked the court to end proceedings against Al-Araibi because Bahrain had said it no longer wanted him, officials told the BBC.

“This morning the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed us that Bahrain was no longer interested in this request,” OAG Foreign Office Chief Chatchom Akapin said.

Al-Araibi was expected to leave Thailand on Monday evening for Australia.

Yahya Alhadid, Chairman of the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, said on social media that the charges against Al-Araibi were dropped.

Former Australian soccer captain Craig Foster, who had been petitioning the international sporting community for Araibi’s release, said on Twitter the most important thing now was his wellbeing.

“Sure Embassy staff will take care of him, there’ll be tears there tonight, as there are in our household right now,” Foster tweeted.

“My thoughts are with Hakeem’s wife. Her nightmare will shortly be at an end. Our prayers answered #Hakeemhome,” he added, thanking “everyone who stood for what’s right”.

As Australia repeatedly demanded his return and Bahrain slammed external interference in its internal affairs, Thailand insisted Al-Araibi’s case had to go through the required judicial process and that it had been caught in the middle, according to Efe news.

In a letter last month, Al-Araibi’s wife issued an emotional plea to the Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to release her husband.

“We are newly wed and my husband wanted to do something special for us… We travelled together excited to arrive in Thailand, only to be met with imprisonment and the threat for my husband to be sent back to Bahrain where his life will be in danger,” Araibi’s wife said from Australia in the letter delivered to the government by his lawyer.

“His future lies in your hands… Please save my husband,””she had said.

–IANS

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