Al-Araibi released from Thailand jail

Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014, was arrested while on honeymoon in Bangkok in November .
Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014, was arrested while on honeymoon in Bangkok in November .

Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has been freed from a Bangkok prison after Thai authorities dropped extradition charges against him.

After more than two months in Bangkok Remand Prison, al-Araibi left the jail on Monday afternoon and was expected to arrive back in Melbourne on Tuesday.

"Hakeem al-Araibi has left jail," Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said in Canberra.

'"He is on his way to the airport, the next step is for him to return home."

An official from the Thai attorney general's office, Chatchom Akapin, said Bahrain had requested the case be dropped after it had sought his extradition.

Al-Araibi was wanted by Bahrain after fleeing the country when he was charged with vandalising a police station in 2012. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail in absentia.

"We had a phone call from the Foreign Affairs Ministry this morning and they said Bahrain doesn't want him anymore," Chatchom told BBC THai.

The Thai Foreign Ministry later refused to give details of why Bahrain asked for the case to be dropped. But Bahrain state media reported on Sunday that Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa had a phone call with Thai Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.

But, after his release on Monday, Bahrain's Foreign Ministry said in a statement the 10-year jail sentence remained in place and reaffirmed its right to "pursue all necessary legal actions against him".

Mr Morrison thanked Thailand for releasing al-Araibi after intense lobbying from the Australian government, global human rights groups, sporting bodies and the public.

"We greatly appreciate their listening to the issues that have been raised by our government and many others who have raised this case," Mr Morrison said.

Al-Araibi, 25, was detained at Bangkok airport on November 27 when he arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon with his wife.

The arrest was made after Bahrain issued an Interpol Red Notice for his detention on November 7. Australia came under fire for passing on the notice to Thai authorities before his arrival.

He had faced at least another two months in jail after a court in Bangkok last week set down his pre-trial extradition hearing for April 22.

Al-Araibi fled Bahrain in 2014 and was granted refugee status by Australia where he plays soccer for semi-professional Melbourne club Pascoe Vale.

Support for the young footballer's release was galvanised by former Socceroo Craig Foster with FIFA, the International Olympic Committee, high-profile players calling for Thailand to free him.

"Many wonderful people stepped forward to help Hakeem," Foster wrote on Twitter.

"I can't list them, but will thank each of them in time. My thoughts are with Hakeem's wife. Her nightmare will shortly be at an end."

Football Federation Australia thanked Foster as well as the Australian and Thai governments.

"The football family looks forward to welcoming Hakeem home and providing him with ongoing support after such a difficult period," chairman Chris Nikou said.

Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei from the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said the decision was a huge victory for the human rights movement in Bahrain and the rest of the world.

"Hakeem's ordeal ended after 70 days when there was a clear public stance and solidarity movement. The football community, the human rights movement and all of those who dedicated their time and efforts to end this injustice were rewarded."

Australian Associated Press