Jakarta: Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi will be freed from his Thai jail cell and allowed to return home to Australia.
The shock move to release Araibi, rather than extradite him to the country of his birth, Bahrain, is a major surprise and one that will delight the thousands of people who have supported his quest for freedom.
Hakeem al-Araibi.Credit:Amilia Rosa
Araibi's lawyer, Nadthasiri Bergman, confirmed to the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that Araibi would be released.
He is due to be released immediately and could be on a flight home as soon as Monday evening.
Araibi was due to return to court on April 22 but the Thai attorney-general's office confirmed Bahrain had requested that the case be dropped.
Director of the department's international affairs section, Chatchom Akapin, said the extradition case against Araibi was dropped by the Criminal Court on Monday afternoon.
Hakeem al-Araibi fled to Australia in 2014 and plays for Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne.Credit:Mark Aviellino
Chatchom told BBC Thai they were informed by the Foreign Ministry that Bahrain wanted to drop the case, but he did not know the reason why.
The release comes a day after Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai met with Bahrain's Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince, in Bahrain's capital of Manama on Sunday.
Araibi was detained by Thai authorities on November 27 when he arrived in Bangkok for a one-week honeymoon with his wife.
An Interpol red notice had been issued for Araibi's detention by Bahrain, but the notice should never have been issued as refugees cannot be returned to the country from which they have fled.
Former footballer and SBS presenter Craig Foster at a rally in Sydney for Hakeem al-Araibi.Credit:Kate Geraghty
Bahrain had sought his extradition because it claims he was involved in vandalising a police station in 2012. He was convicted in absentia of the crime, but has always maintained his innocence and pointed out he was playing in a football match that was broadcast live on Bahrain TV until about 30 minutes before the incident.
Araibi fled to Australia in 2014, was granted refugee status in 2017 and plays for Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne.
He has spoken movingly about his love for Australia and his fear of being returned to Bahrain, where he has said he could be tortured.
Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster, who has helped lead the campaign for Araibi's freedom, said on Twitter: "My thanks go to the wonderful people of Thailand for your support and to Thai Govt for upholding international law. My deepest gratitude. Also to everyone who stood for what’s right".
Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network program coordinator Evan Jones, who has regularly visited Araibi in jail, said news of the release was fantastic.
"We welcome Hakeem’s release, he should never have been detained. We are thrilled he can return to Australia," he said.
Fatima Yazbek, the spokeswoman for the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights and another supporter of Araibi's, said "this means humanity has won, Hakeem is innocent, he didn’t do anything and the fight to get him home safe is successful".
"We thank everyone involved in this fight, all the Australian community, thank you all for your support," she said.
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