Thai court orders release of refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi

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

Prosecutors made the decision after Thailand's foreign ministry sent a letter on Monday morning indicating that Bahrain had withdrawn its request for Al-Araibi, Chatchom Akapin, director general of the attorney general office's worldwide affairs department, said.

Hakeem al-Araibi, who has refugee status in Australia, was detained in November when he arrived in Bangkok for his honeymoon after Bahrain issued a warrant for his arrest.

Araibi has said he wants to return to Australia, where he has lived since 2014 and plays for a Melbourne football club.

A report commissioned by Bahrain's own monarch in 2011 found authorities engaged in "a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which in many cases amounted to torture, with respect to a large number of detainees in their custody". But it added that the guilty verdict against him "remains in place" and "t$3 he Kingdom of Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against Mr. Al Araibi".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Monday that Hakeem al-Araibi had left jail and was on his way to the airport.

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 previous year - with the hashtag #SaveHakeem.

Thailand's Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week that al-Araibi was detained because Australian authorities had forwarded them an Interpol Red Notice that Bahrain was seeking his arrest. "They all deserve to be in front of camera now, not only me".

After his arrest in Bahrain, al-Araibi said police tortured him. "He is a free man", said Chatchom Akapin, an official in the Thai Attorney-General's office.

A court filing from Thai prosecutors had noted that while Thailand and Bahrain do not have an extradition treaty, extradition is still possible by law if Bahrain makes an official request - which it did - and if the crime is punishable by more than a year's imprisonment and is not politically motivated or a military violation.

Nadthasiri Bergman, Mr Araibi's lawyer, said the court had given her 60 days to submit the defence's case.

Human rights activists in Bahrain have also welcomed the news. Rights groups said the case is part of a broader crackdown on dissidents.

Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday it had no comment on the case.

  • Rogelio Becker