Thai court frees Melbourne-based refugee

April FrancisFeb 12, 2019

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 global criticism.

"We have been informed that Bahrain wants to withdraw the (extradition) request. if they don't want him, we have no reason to keep him here", he told AFP.

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.

Al-Araibi has refugee status in Australia.

The surprise decision on Monday ends more than 70 days of detention and worldwide outcry over Bahrain's attempts to return the 25-year-old dissident refugee.

Officials in Bahrain, an island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia that's home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, said the country "reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against" al-Araibi.

PM Scott Morrison tonight confirmed Hakeem has now be freed and will fly home immediately after an intervention by the Thai Attorney General.

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Bahrain wanted its former national team player to return and serve a 10-year prison sentence that was handed down in absentia after he was accused of vandalising a police station. "They all deserve to be in front of camera now, not only me".

Sounds familiar: Even a Bahrain government-ordered investigation reported deaths from torture in 2011 and said detainees were electrocuted, beaten on the soles of their feet, otherwise abused and reported being squeezed into tiny cells, sexually assaulted and other horrors.

Before the soccer player's release, Thailand's Foreign Ministry last week released a defensive statement in which it claimed that Thai authorities "would not have become involved in the issue had we not received the red notice alert from the Australian Interpol and the subsequent formal request by Bahrain for his arrest and extradition".

"Fifa is committed to protecting human rights". Rights groups said the case is part of a broader crackdown on dissidents.

Nadthasiri Bergman, Mr Araibi's lawyer, said the court had given her 60 days to submit the defence's case.

Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had no comment on the case.

"As prime minister, I'm pleased Hakeem is coming home, and I'll be pleased to see him at home when that occurs", Morrison said.

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