Bahrain refugee footballer free as Thailand drops extradition bid

Refugee footballer will not be extradited to Bahrain Thai prosecutor

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A refugee Bahraini footballer with residency status in Australia boarded a flight for Melbourne early on Tuesday after Bahrain dropped its bid to have him extradited from Thailand, bringing to an end a case that had drawn worldwide criticism.

In a news release on Monday, Bahrain's state news agency said the country's Foreign Ministry took "note of the halt in legal proceedings" to have him extradited.

Chatchom Akapin, director-general of the International Affairs Department, said the Foreign Ministry had informed his office that Bahrain has chose to withdraw its extradition request, hence there is no reason to keep al-Araibi in detention.

A Thai court on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, has ordered the release of al-Araibi after prosecutors said they were no longer seeking his extradition to Bahrain.

Araibi has said he wants to return to Australia, where he has lived since 2014 and plays for a Melbourne football club. "He is at grave risk of unjust imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment if he is returned to Bahrain". 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".

Australian police acknowledge doing so, but there have been questions raised about why the Red Notice appeared to have been issued just before al-Araibi departed on his trip, and whether Bahraini authorities had been tipped off about his travel plans.

Although Al-Araibi's release is yet to be officially confirmed, the player's lawyer Latifa al-Haouli told SBS News: "We won".

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Al-Araibi has been in a Bangkok jail since November, after being arrested while on honeymoon due to an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain's request. "He is a free man", said Chatchom Akapin, an official in the Thai Attorney-General's office.

However Bahrain has reiterated their arrest warrant for Hakeem is still current and will seize him if he returns to the country of his birth.

"We would particularly like to thank former Socceroo Craig Foster for his tireless efforts in leading this campaign and we also acknowledge the work of Professional Footballers Australia, Football Victoria and Pascoe Vale FC".

Bahrain continues to face fierce criticism from human rights organizations. Rights groups said the case is part of a broader crackdown on dissidents.

Hakeem Al-Araibi is led into court in Bangkok during an earlier hearing.

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

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