Thai court orders release of refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi

4 2019 Hakeem al-Araibi a Bahraini refugee and Australian resident is escorted to a courtroom in Bangkok

4 2019 Hakeem al-Araibi a Bahraini refugee and Australian resident is escorted to a courtroom in Bangkok

Al-Araibi's wife also begged for his release in an open letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, saying her husband would face "imprisonment, torture and possible death" if sent back to Bahrain. He was seen talking happily as he walked past the gate to board his plane.

Bahrain says that it "reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against" a soccer player who has been granted refugee status in Australia.

Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who was facing an extradition trial in Bangkok since his detention in November past year, was heading back to Australia last night after the Bahraini authorities chose to withdraw their extradition request.

Mr al-Araibi's wife issued a statement thanking people for the support that had been offered to her husband.

It was not immediately clear when or why Bahrain withdrew its request. The young footballer has said he was playing in a televised match around the time of the crime and could never have been there.

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Monday's development follows an appeal, reported by media on Saturday, to the Thai prime minister from two Australian divers who helped save 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave.

Prosecutors made the decision after Thailand's foreign ministry sent a letter on Monday morning indicating that Bahrain had withdrawn its request for Al-Araibi, Chatchom Akapin, director general of the attorney general office's worldwide affairs department, said.

He was convicted of vandalising a police station during 2011 anti-government protests in Bahrain and sentenced in absentia after he fled.

Bahrain claimed in its extradition request that al-Araibi faced a series of criminal charges reportedly during an uprising, including arson, illegal gathering and assaults, as well as possessing firearms and explosives.

Former Australian football captain Craig Foster who has been leading a protest in the football community for Araibi's freedom expressed his "deepest gratitude" for the news.

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Morrison said: "Now the next step is for him to return home". He has been living in Melbourne, where he plays for a semi-professional team.

Human rights group Amnesty International, which had lobbied for his release, welcomed Thailand's move.

The Thai Foreign Ministry later declined to give details of why Bahrain asked for the case to be dropped.

"We greatly respect the process that they have had to work through and we greatly appreciate their listening to the issues that have been raised by our government and many others who have raised this case". They were visiting Bangkok for a honeymoon trip on November 27 when al-Araibi was arrested following an Interpol red notice initiated and then later cancelled by the Australian Interpol police.

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.

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