Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi set to be released by Thai authorities


A Thai court ordered the release of refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi on Monday after prosecutors said they were no longer seeking his extradition to Bahrain.

Since al-Araibi's arrest hit global headlines, Australia has been at the forefront of the demand for his immediate release, arguing that he was a refugee with Australian residency and should not be arrested or face trial.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Monday night that, as of 9pm, al-Araibi had been freed from prison and was on his way to the airport to travel back to Australia.

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.

A police vehicle believed to be carrying Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi is pictured as it leaves the Bangkok's Remand Prison, Thailand, February 11, 2019.

He travelled to Bangkok for a honeymoon with his wife but was arrested on arrival on 27 November, after Bahrain obtained an Interpol arrest warrant. He has been living in Melbourne, where he plays for a semi-professional team.

The 25-year-old pro-democracy advocate has been sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in absentia by the Bahrain regime for alleged vandalism but denies any involvement.

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

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

The Bangkok court previously set an April 22 date for the next hearing.

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.

Human rights activists in Bahrain have also welcomed the news. She said "a great deal" of work had gone on behind the scenes.