Bahrain refugee footballer free as Thailand drops extradition bid

Bahrain refugee footballer free as Thailand drops extradition bid

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.

"We have been informed that Bahrain wants to withdraw the (extradition) request".

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.

That is partly because al-Araibi says he was tortured in custody before he fled Bahrain, telling The New York Times in 2016 that an officer "beat my legs really hard, saying: 'You will not play soccer again".

But as footballers and fans say goodbye to Sala, knowing that their generosity and support helped offer closure to his grieving family, they have everything still to do for al-Araibi. "He is at grave risk of unjust imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment if he is returned to Bahrain".

Separately, BNA said Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa had met Thailand's foreign minister, who was visiting the island, on Sunday.

He was sentenced in absentia to 10 years for vandalising a police station.

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Former Australia national team captain Craig Foster, who has been leading the campaign for al-Araibi's release, praised all those who worked on the campaign.

In November a year ago, he and his wife flew to Thailand for their honeymoon, believing his Australian visa allowed him to travel safely, but they were detained immediately when they landed at Bangkok's Airport in response to an Interpol "red notice".

"They blindfolded me", he told the Times in 2016.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the London-based campaign group the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said: "This is a huge victory for the human rights movement in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia, and even the whole world".

Human rights activists in Bahrain have also welcomed the news.

What began as a honeymoon turned into a two-month nightmare, but at last Hakeem al-Araibi's ordeal is over. "It is a commitment enshrined in our human rights policy", he said. Having been dragged off his flight into detention on arrival on November 27, after a few days of detention at Suvarnabhumi Airport a ticket and a boarding pass was placed in his hands and they were prepared to return to Melbourne.

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

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