Hakeem al-Araibi: Thai court orders refugee footballer's release

A criminal court in Thailand ordered the release of detained Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi on Monday after Bahrain abandoned its bid to seek his extradition.

Prosecutors submitted a court request to withdraw al-Araibi's extradition case to his native Bahrain, where he faces a 10-year prison sentence.

"The court will now issue an order to release Mr Hakeem from jail today," said Chatchom Akapin, an official in the Thai Attorney General's office. "There are no grounds to hold him anymore. It is his right to decide where he will go next. He is a free man."

Craig Foster, a former Australian soccer international who led the campaign to free al-Araibi, expressed his "deepest gratitude" on Twitter.

Al-Araibi has said he would like to return to Australia, where he has lived since 2014.

Fleeing Bahrain

The 25-year-old footballer was arrested in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport in November while on his honeymoon. Bahrain had attempted to extradite him so he could serve a 10-year prison sentence for an alleged arson attack that damaged a police station. He denies the charges, which he says were politically motivated.

Al-Araibi was originally arrested in 2012. He told German public broadcaster ARD in 2016 that his legs were beaten during his detention. He believed he was targeted because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy. Bahraini authorities have denied allegations of torture.

In 2013, he fled the country while on bail and playing for the national team in Qatar. He eventually settled in Australia in 2014, where he has refugee status. He had been playing for a semi-professional soccer team in Melbourne before he was detained in Thailand.

Al-Arabi's extradition case quickly grew international attention, with non-governmental organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch calling for his release. Al-Araibi's wife also begged for his release in an open letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, saying her husband would face "imprisonment, torture and possible death" if sent back to Bahrain.

dv/rt (dpa, AFP)

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