Refugee footballer held in Thailand spared extradition to Bahrain
Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi will not be sent back to Bahrain after Thailand dropped extradition proceedings against him at the Gulf state's request, a prosecutor said Monday, ending a two-month detention ordeal that stirred global outcry.
Araibi, 25, a former Bahraini national youth team player, was granted refugee status in Australia after fleeing charges in the oil-rich kingdom connected to Arab Spring protests.
But he was stopped at Bangkok's main airport at Bahrain's request on November 27 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 footballer had pleaded against saying he fears torture if returned.
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.
"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 told AFP.
The Thai Corrections Department chief said he had been released from Bangkok remand into the care of Immigration Police.
The Australian government had repeatedly called for Araibi's return and the case has become a cause celebre in the football world, with FIFA also urging the Thai football authorities to intervene.
Football Federation Australia (FFA) last week cancelled the under-23 men's national team plans 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 his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-O-Cha and stressed "how strongly" Australians feel about Araibi's case.
Former Australian football captain Craig Foster, who has been leading a protest in the football community for 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 posted on Twitter shortly after the news.
Calling his detention a "grave mistake", Kasit Piromya, a board member of the lobby group ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said the footballer's case showed the failings of Thailand's "outdated" laws and policies.