BANGKOK – Refugee soccer player Hakeem al-Araibi was released on Monday from a Bangkok prison after nearly 80 days of detention and was heading home to Australia, Canberra confirmed Monday night.
“Hakeem al-Arabi has left jail. He is on his way to the airport,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, cautiously adding that “people aren’t home till they’re home.”
Standing beside Morrison, his release was reiterated by Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who said Araibi was boarding a flight back to Australia and would be “returning to his family in the next day.”
Earlier on Monday, Chatchom Akapin, director general of International Affairs, Office of the Attorney General, told EFE that Bahrain had contacted the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs to say it was withdrawing its extradition request for 25-year-old Araibi.
The Criminal Court accepted the petition at 3:00 pm local time, Chatchom added.
Former Australian soccer captain Craig Foster, who has been petitioning the international sporting community for Araibi’s release, said on Twitter the most important thing now is his well being.
“Sure Embassy staff will take care of him, there’ll be tears there tonight, as there are in our household right now,” Foster said on Twitter
“My thoughts are with Hakeem’s wife. Her nightmare will shortly be at an end. Our prayers answered #Hakeemhome,” he added, thanking “everyone who stood for what’s right.”
Araibi’s case attracted increasing attention and widespread condemnation from governments, rights groups and the international sporting community since his detention in November.
As Australia repeatedly demanded his return, and Bahrain slammed external interference in its internal affairs, Thailand insisted Araibi’s case had to go through the required judicial process and that it had been caught in the middle.
“This is hugely positive news and we are delighted that Hakeem Al-Araibi will be allowed to return to family members and team mates in Australia,” Kasit Piromya, board member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and a former foreign minister of Thailand, said in a statement.
But Kasit added that Araibi’s “incarceration was a grave mistake, compounded and dragged out far longer than necessary by outdated laws and policies in Thailand.”
“Hakeem should never have been put through this ordeal in the first place. He is owed an apology from our country and we hope others will not have to suffer the same indignity,” he said, adding the case “should be a wakeup call to the authorities to change its often cruel and inhumane refugee policies.”
Araibi’s wife had last month issued an emotional plea in a letter to the Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to release her husband.
“His future lies in your hands… Please save my husband,” she said.
The former Bahraini national soccer player has been detained since his arrival in Bangkok from Melbourne on Nov. 27 after an erroneous Interpol red notice was issued.
Although the red notice was later withdrawn, Bahrain requested his extradition to face charges of vandalizing a police station in the country, which Araibi denies.
He is a recognized refugee with Australian residency and fears for his life if he were to be returned to his homeland.