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Refugee footballer freed after Bahrain drops extradition

Refugee footballer freed after Bahrain drops extradition

BANGKOK: Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi will not be sent back to Bahrain after Thailand dropped extradition proceedings against him at the Gulf State’s request, a prosecutor said today (Feb 11).

politicsimmigration
By AFP

Monday 11 February 2019, 05:17PM


Hakeem al-Araibi has been in custody since arriving in Bangkok in November for his honeymoon. Photo: AFP

Hakeem al-Araibi has been in custody since arriving in Bangkok in November for his honeymoon. Photo: AFP

Araibi, a former Bahraini national youth team player, was granted refugee status in Australia after fleeing charges in the oil-rich kingdom connected to Arab Spring protests.

But he was stopped at a Bangkok airport at Bahrain’s request in November as he arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon

Since then, he has been detained in a Bangkok prison pending a court ruling over the extradition request from the Bahraini government – a move the footballer has pleaded against as he fears torture if returned.

Monday brought a stunning about-turn from the Bahraini government, which withdrew the extradition request, said Chatchom Akapin, Director-General of the International Affairs Department at the prosecutor’s office.

“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.

Chatchom added that the process to release Araibi is underway.

The Australian government has repeatedly called for Araibi’s return and the case has become a cause celebre in the football world, with FIFA also urging the Thai premier to intervene.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) last week cancelled the under-23 men’s national team plans to hold a training camp in Thailand ahead of the AFC U23 Championship qualifiers next month.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had also repeatedly pushed for his release, saying that he had written letters to his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-O-Cha and stressed “how strongly” Australians feel about Araibi’s case.

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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.

“My thanks go to the wonderful people of Thailand for your support and to the Thai (government) for upholding international law,” Foster posted on Twitter shortly after the news.

Thailand’s treatment of refugees has been thrust under international scrutiny in recent weeks.

In January, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who ran away from her family arrived in Bangkok’s airport, and armed with a smart-phone and a captive Twitter audience, she managed to outmanoeuvre Thai authorities and gain refuge in Canada following her pleas for asylum from her “abusive” family.

Bahrain’s reversal of Araibi’s extradition is surprising.

Only last week it issued a statement defending its decision to pursue the footballer after he fled while awaiting trial.

He was convicted in absentia in 2014 for damaging a police station.

But Araibi says the case is bogus and tied to his criticism of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's ruling family.

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Kurt | 13 February 2019 - 13:51:57

Yup, ... Bahrain and thailand were trapped in the international spot lights. Both countries for different reasons.  But a worldwide football boycott was coming up around the corner for both . They got scared, other wise why the outcome of this dreadful  affair, with prison clothes and shackles, took more than 2 months before sudden it was all over?  Will Thailand learn from this? I doubt.

Jor12 | 12 February 2019 - 20:54:32

...., the BNA reports that the Thai Foreign Minister who was visitng the Isalnd, met with Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa not that he flew there specifically for the meeting, and that Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa had a phone call with Thai Prime Minister Gen Prayut.

DeKaaskopp | 12 February 2019 - 11:49:21

...Mr.al Araibi  was in Bahrain playing football.The Stadium was 20km away from the place of the incident.Prosecutors argued there was enough time to join the attack after the game. Have you been a witness?

Kurt | 12 February 2019 - 10:19:55

Strange is we never red any statement yet from Bahrain Authorities. Just that the thai foreign minister went to Bahrain, for what? Can't they video conference about such 'small' matter? It is all so strange. What really played we never will know. But is was not fresh.

Rorri_2 | 12 February 2019 - 04:46:06

Thailand, with all your lies, on this fiasco, you are an embarrassment. You have ruined this mans honeymoon, forced him to spend  months in jail, and for what...bowing to the Bahraini dictators...  Video evidence shows he wasn't in Bahrain at the time of the alleged incident, so just what was the Bahraini motive?

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