Refugee footballer will not be extradited to Bahrain: Thai prosecutor
Bangkok, Feb 11 (AFP) 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 Monday.
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.
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 outmaneuvre 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