Thailand has freed a refugee Bahraini footballer after Manama abandoned its bid to seek his extradition, bringing to an end a case that has attracted international attention.
Hakeem al-Araibi, 25, boarded a flight to the Australian city of Melbourne early on Tuesday, his lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman and Thai Immigration Police chief Surachate Hakparn told the Associated Press news agency.
Thai prosecutors submitted a request to a court on Monday to withdraw the case to extradite al-Araibi to Bahrain after the country’s foreign ministry indicated that Bahrain had withdrawn its request, said Chatchom Akapin, the director general of the attorney general office’s international affairs department.
Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and received refugee status in Australia, was arrested in November last year at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport while on a honeymoon trip, following an Interpol notice issued at the Gulf state’s request.
He was subsequently jailed for weeks in Bangkok’s Klong Prem Remand Prison.
His detention drew international criticism, with Australian authorities and fellow footballers urging Thailand to release him.
Bahrain wanted him returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence he received in absentia in 2014 for an arson attack that damaged a police station. Al-Araibi has denied those charges and previously said he would face torture if returned to Bahrain.
The Gulf state did not provide an explanation for the withdrawal of its extradition request, but refused to rule out pursuing further legal action against Al-Araibi.
“The Kingdom of Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against Mr al-Araibi,” the foreign ministry said on Monday in a statement carried by the country’s BNA state news agency.
The ministry’s statement added that the 25-year-old had the right to appeal the verdict against him at Bahrain’s Court of Appeal.
‘Huge victory for human rights’
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne welcomed the news of al-Araibi’s release, however, and said she looked forward to the 25-year-old returning to Australia.
“It has been a complex process and has taken a great deal of communication and engagement, but we have an outcome, and I think for Hakeem al-Araibi and for the many who have supported him that is the most important thing,” Payne told reporters in the Australian capital, Canberra.
Activists, meanwhile, described the move as a “huge victory for the human rights movement in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia, and even the whole world”.
“Hakeem’s ordeal ended after 70 days when there was a clear public stance and solidarity movement. The football community, the human-rights movement and all of those who dedicated their time and efforts to end this injustice were rewarded,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.
“Let’s continue the fight to release all political prisoners who languish in Bahrain’s prisons,” Alwadaei added.