Aussie Campaigners Rejoice After Refugee Footballer Is Freed From Thai Prison

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Bahrain footballer Hakeem al-Araibi is brought to the Criminal Court in Bangkok on Feb 4 for an extradition request from Bahrain.

Hakeem Al-Araibi, the refugee footballer detained in Thailand, will be freed from prison after Bahrain Monday made the shock decision to drop its extradition case.

In the wake of the news, chairman Chris Nikou thanked the Bahrain government, despite the nation declaring they didn't endorse Al-Araibi's release.

"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.

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". He denies the charges, which he says were politically motivated. "He is at grave risk of unjust imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment if he is returned to Bahrain".

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.

The Thai Attorney General's International Affairs Department said yesterday that the Foreign Ministry had said that Bahrain wanted to withdraw the extradition request.

On November 27, al-Araibi was anticipating celebrating his honeymoon when he touched down in Bangkok with his wife.

Al-Araibi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in Bahrain for alleged vandalism offences - which al-Araibi has denied committing - and has described being tortured in Bahrain when he was arrested in 2012.

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He was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison and left for Australia.

Thai authorities escorted Hakeem al-Araibi through Suvarnabhumi airport early last night where it is believed he boarded a JetStar flight back to Melbourne.

An global human rights campaign for his release succeeded on Monday.

He fled Bahrain while playing for the national team in Qatar in 2013 before making his way to Australia via Iran, Malaysia and Thailand, and seeking asylum in 2014.

Bahrain's foreign ministry said that despite the end of court extradition proceedings, the footballer's conviction still stood.

"This is a win for humanity, for the power of the citizen of the world demanding that human rights be protected, a step forward for Thailand, a challenge for Australia and the beginning of a broader fight for the values of sport", Foster said via his Facebook account.

Support for the young footballer's release was galvanised by former Socceroo Craig Foster with FIFA, the International Olympic Committee, and high-profile players calling for Thailand to free him.

An Interpol red notice had been issued for Araibi's detention by Bahrain, but the notice should never have been issued as refugees can not be returned to the country from which they have fled.