Thailand drops extradition proceedings against refugee footballer

Wanderers Thai Airways

Thailand to free Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi

A Thai court has ruled an extradition case against refugee soccer star Hakeem al-Araibi has been dropped - with the 25-year-old due to return to Australia on Monday night.

However Bahrain has reiterated their arrest warrant for Hakeem is still current and will seize him if he returns to the country of his birth.

Mr Araibi's supporters said he should be freed and is protected under his status as a refugee with Australian residency.

Bahrain's foreign ministry said in a statement that it has taken note of a "halt of legal proceedings" and reaffirmed its right to "pursue all necessary legal actions against him". Araibi denies the charges, saying he was playing in a televised soccer match at the time of the police station attack.

He was sentenced in absentia to 10 years for vandalising a police station.

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Foreign minister Marise Payne said there were still "a number of steps to go in this process" but said al-Araibi would hopefully be back in Australia in the next day or so.

'The court will now issue an order to release Mr Hakeem from jail today, ' said Chatchom, the director-general of the office's worldwide affairs department.

FILE PHOTO: Jailed Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi leaves Thailand's Criminal Court, in Bangkok, Thailand February 4, 2019.

Pressure had been intensifying on both the Bahraini and Thai governments to drop the extradition case, especially after videos of Araibi walking in shackles were circulated on social media.

Bahrain has denied allegations of torture and said Mr Araibi is a fugitive who should be returned.

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Court spokesman Suriyan Hongvilai said Monday that Hakeem al-Araibi was now being processed for release. The Shiite Muslim said he was targeted for his faith and because he had run afoul of Bahrain's ruling Sunni family owing to his brother's political activism. Her nightmare will shortly be at an end.

Morrison, the Australian prime minister, had in recent weeks has spoken out strongly on behalf of al-Araibi's freedom.

Al-Araibi was originally arrested in 2012.

A report commissioned by Bahrain's own monarch in 2011 found authorities engaged in "a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which in many cases amounted to torture, with respect to a large number of detainees in their custody".

The move comes just days after the two Australians who helped mount the Thai cave rescue, Australians of the Year Craig Challen and Richard Harris, sent a letter to the Thai government, pleading for mercy for Hakeem.

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