Refugee soccer player from Bahrain freed by Thai court, escapes deportation

Arturo Kim
February 12, 2019

Bahrain's Foreign Ministry says it had learned about the withdrawal of the extradition case by the Thai side but they insisted the 10 year jail sentence on al-Araibi remained in place. He was seen talking happily as he walked past the gate to board his plane.

The Bahraini refugee, who plays semi-professionally for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale Football Club, was released on Monday night after spending more than two months in detention.

A Thai court dropped Araibi's case on Monday, saying Bahrain had withdrawn the request.

Following the development, his office resolved in a meeting that it would not proceed with the trial against al-Araibi.

"As soon as our son reach (sic) Australia, we call upon the Bahraini authorities, which unlawfully treats Hakeem as a criminal despite his innocence, to drop all the fabricated charges, repeal the court's unfair verdict, acquit and apologise for the physical and psychological repercussion it inflicted upon Hakeem", his family said.

Officials in Bahrain have said the country, "reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against" Mr al-Araibi.

In the Australian capital of Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the decision of the Thai government.

Chatchom Akapin, director-general of the Attorney General's International Affairs Department, said the Foreign Ministry had told his office yesterday morning that Bahrain wanted to withdraw the extradition request. He was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on a holiday at the request of Bahrain relayed through Interpol - from the worldwide police body's Australian office.

In 2014, a Bahraini court sentenced him to 10 years in prison in absentia for damaging a vehicle.

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

Bahraini Hakeem al-Araibiwill fly home to Australia on Monday.

Again, had 25-year-old al-Araibi not been a footballer, his plight likely wouldn't have evoked much of a reaction beyond the human rights groups whose days are filled with such cases.

"This is a significant win for humanity, people everywhere standing up for good, pushing back against regimes who flout global law, for human rights", Foster said.

He fled to Australia in 2014, where he settled in Melbourne and was granted political asylum.

A campaign championed by former Australia captain Craig Foster has been calling for Federation Internationale de Football Association and human rights groups to put pressure on the Thai government to release him.

She said she requested his release on bail but it was denied because the court deemed him a flight risk.

Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei, from the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said the decision was a huge victory for the human rights movement in Bahrain and the rest of the world.

"We greatly appreciate their listening to the issues that have been raised by our government and many others who have raised this case", Mr Morrison said.

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