Refugee soccer player from Bahrain freed by Thai court, escapes deportation

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.

Chatchom Akapin, the department's director of worldwide affairs, said the decision was made under Section 21 of the Prosecution Act which allows for cases to be dropped if they are not in the public interest.

A similar campaign was launched on behalf of Araibi by human rights groups, fellow soccer players and other activists - including the heroes who helped save a Thai soccer team trapped in a cave a year ago - with the hashtag #SaveHakeem.

On November 27, al-Araibi was anticipating celebrating his honeymoon when he touched down in Bangkok with his wife. Araibi has lived in Australia since 2014 and plays there for a local soccer club.

"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.

Officials in Bahrain, an island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia that's home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, said the country "reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against" al-Araibi.

"Many wonderful people stepped forward to help Hakeem".

On Monday, prosecutors submitted to court a request to withdraw the case to extradite Al-Araibi to Bahrain, where he faces a 10-year prison sentence for an arson attack that damaged a police station. "They all deserve to be in front of camera now, not only me".

The state-run Bahrain News Agency reported Sunday that Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa had a phone call with Thai Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, but offered no specifics on their discussions.

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

After his arrest in Bahrain, al-Araibi said police tortured him.

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

"We would particularly like to thank former Socceroo Craig Foster for his tireless efforts in leading this campaign and we also acknowledge the work of Professional Footballers Australia, Football Victoria and Pascoe Vale FC".

"Now the next step is for him to return home", Morrison told reporters in Canberra. "(P) eople everywhere standing up for good, pushing back against regimes who flout global law, for human rights".

  • Joey Payne