Soccer star Hakeem al-Araibi to return to Australia

Posted February 12, 2019

Australian footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi has been released from Thai prison and is heading home, after prosecutors dropped the push to extradite him back to Bahrain.

It was not immediately clear when or why Bahrain withdrew its request.

Australia confirmed that al-Araibi was on his way back to the country, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying he was "pleased Hakeem is coming home".

But the soccer player disputed the charges, telling The New York Times that his innocence was easily documented because he appeared in a live televised match at the time of the incident.

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

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Hakeem Al Araibi, 25, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and received refugee status in Australia, was arrested in November previous year at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport while on a honeymoon trip, following an Interpol notice issued at the Gulf state's request.

He was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November, while on a holiday, at the request of Bahrain relayed through Interpol.

Pressure had been intensifying on both the Bahraini and Thai governments to drop the extradition case, especially after videos of Araibi walking in shackles were circulated on social media. He has been living in Melbourne, where he plays for a semi-professional soccer team.

Al-Araibi had initially been arrested in Bahrain in 2012 after authorities said he committed arson by burning down a police station.

"This morning the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed us that Bahrain was no longer interested in this request", OAG foreign office chief Chatchom Akapin said.

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At a news conference Monday, Morrison said al-Araibi was on his way to the airport, "as a result of the decision of the Thai government not to pursue the extradition".

He also believes he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain.

Bahrain has a Shia majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.

Bahraini authorities deny allegations of torture. Her nightmare will shortly be at an end.

The move comes just days after the two Australians who helped mount the Thai cave rescue, Australians of the Year Craig Challen and Richard Harris, sent a letter to the Thai government, pleading for mercy for Hakeem. "(P) eople everywhere standing up for good, pushing back against regimes who flout worldwide law, for human rights".

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