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Refugee footballer held in Thailand spared extradition to Bahrain

AFP  |  Bangkok 

Refugee will not be sent back to after dropped proceedings against him at the Gulf state's request, a said Monday, ending a two-month detention ordeal that stirred global outcry.

Araibi, 25, a former Bahraini national youth team player, was granted refugee status in after fleeing charges in the connected to Arab Spring protests.

But he was stopped at Bangkok's main airport at Bahrain's request on November 27 as he arrived in for his honeymoon.

He has been detained since in a prison pending a court ruling on the request from -- a move the had pleaded against saying he fears torture if returned.

Monday brought a stunning about-turn from the Bahraini government, which withdrew the request, said Chatchom Akapin, of the at the prosecutor's office.

"We have been informed that wants to withdraw the (extradition) request... if they don't want him, we have no reason to keep him here," he told AFP.

The said he had been released from remand into the care of

The had repeatedly called for Araibi's return and the case has become a cause celebre in the football world, with also urging the Thai football authorities to intervene.

Football Federation (FFA) last week cancelled the under-23 men's national team plans to hold a training camp in

Australian Scott Morrison, who had also repeatedly pushed for Araibi's release with his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-O-Cha, said Monday that the "is on his way to the airport" and thanked the for "listening to the issues" raised by

"Now the next step is for him to return home. But as it always is in these cases, people aren't home until they're home," told reporters in a press conference in

Former Australian Craig Foster, who has been leading a protest in the football community for Araibi's freedom, expressed his "deepest gratitude" for the

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

Calling his detention a "grave mistake", Kasit Piromya, a group for Human Rights, said the footballer's case showed the failings of Thailand's "outdated" laws and policies.

"Hakeem should never have been put through this ordeal in the first place," Piromya said.

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 audience, managed to outmanoeuvre Thai authorities and gain refuge in following her pleas for asylum from her "abusive" family.

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

Only last week the Gulf state issued a statement defending its decision to pursue the footballer after he fled while awaiting trial, and 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 (AFC) Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's ruling family.

A statement from Bahrain's foreign ministry on Monday "takes note of the halt in legal proceedings" though it does not confirm it had withdrawn its

"The guilty verdict against Mr. remains in place.... (Bahrain) reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against (Araibi)," the statement said.

The reversal comes a day after Thailand's met with Bahrain's in to "discuss... areas of interest", according to Bahrain's state-run agency.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, February 11 2019. 18:25 IST
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