Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi released after months in Thai detention

Source: Xinhua| 2019-02-12 10:39:22|Editor: mym
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CANBERRA, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) -- Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has been freed from detention in Thailand and allowed to return to Australia after spending two months behind bars.

The Thai attorney-general's office on Monday night confirmed that the extradition case against al-Araibi, 25, had been dropped and he would be free to return to his adopted home.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who took up an active role in the campaign to free Hakeem in January, welcomed the news.

Al-Araibi was arrested at Bangkok airport on Nov. 27, when he arrived in the country for his honeymoon with his wife, at the request of his native Bahrain, which he fled for Australia in 2014 after being accused of vandalizing a police station.

A former member of Bahrain's national football team, al-Araibi has denied any involvement in the attack, saying he was playing in a televised football match at that time.

During his appearances in Thai court he begged for Bahrain's extradition request to be denied, saying he feared he would be tortured if returned to his native country.

The campaign to see Hakeem returned safely to Australia was spearheaded by Craig Foster, a former member of Australia's national football team -- Socceroos.

Speaking on Monday night, Foster, who flew to Bangkok to visit al-Araibi in prison, described it as a "stunning" and "emotional" outcome.

"Speaking to all the people involved, who have worked so hard over this time to try and save his life, it's an incredible feeling," he told SBS, one of Australia's two state-funded broadcasters.

In a series of posts on social media, Foster thanked the "may wonderful people (who) stepped forward to help Hakeem."

Football's governing body FIFA, which was urged by Foster to intervene in the case, joined the chorus of voices welcoming the news of al-Araibi's release.

"FIFA is extremely pleased to see Hakeem Al-Araibi released from prison in Thailand and allowed to travel back to his home in Australia," it said in a statement.

"This is the outcome we have worked for together with a broad coalition of human rights organizations, governments and the wider football community over the past two months," it added.

"We would like to sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to this outcome and, in particular, the relevant public authorities for doing the right thing and bringing Hakeem's ordeal to an end."