Thailand Free Refugee Footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi After Extradition Withdrawal

Christopher Simpson@@CJSimpsonBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2019

BANGKOK, THAILAND - FEBRUARY 04:  The departure of Hakeem al-Araibi, a refugee footballer, from Bangkok's Criminal Court on February 4, 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Thai court is hearing the request to extradite the Bahraini football player, who was detained in Bangkok during his honeymoon. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

Thailand has released refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi from detention after his native Bahrain withdrew a request to extradite him.

Per BBC News, Thailand freed Al-Araibi on Monday having held him in Bangkok since November, when he arrived in the country for his honeymoon.

Chatchom Akapin, the foreign office chief for Thailand's Office of the Attorney General, said: "This morning the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed us that Bahrain was no longer interested in this request."

Authorities arrested the 25-year-old based on an Interpol red notice, which was requested by Bahrain and later overturned because it breached the organisation's own rules.

Al-Araibi sought asylum from Bahrain in Australia in 2014, and red notices are not allowed to be issued against refugees at the request of the country they fled.

The Pascoe Vale player, who resides in Melbourne, was convicted for the vandalism of a police station and given a 10-year prison sentence in absentia.

However, per Sky News' Russell Hope, Al-Araibi says he was playing in a televised match at the time the crime was allegedly committed, and he believes he has been targeted because of his criticism of Bahrain's government and royal family.

He and his wife also feared he would be tortured if he was extradited to his home country. Bahrain denied the charges against him were related to "any possible freedom of opinion/expression issues" and "guaranteed" his safety if he returned.

Former Australia captain Craig Foster, who is also an ambassador for human rights organisation Amnesty International, played a key role in the campaign to free Al-Araibi:

He spoke to SBS News about Al-Araibi's release:

During his imprisonment, the campaign also attracted support from Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy and former Chelsea star Didier Drogba on social media.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said his release is "a huge victory for the human rights movement in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia, and even the whole world."  

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