Refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi has been released from a Bangkok prison after Bahrain withdrew its extradition request.
The dramatic U-turn comes a week after a Thai judge sent Al-Araibi back to prison, giving his legal team 60 days to prepare their defence before the next stage in the extradition process commenced.
The decision will come as a huge relief to the 25-year-old, his family and friends but it is also a triumph for the global football community that rallied around him following his arrest in November when he was in Thailand on honeymoon.
Al-Araibi was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017, three years after he fled there from his native Bahrain, where he claims he was tortured following the Arab Spring protests.
He was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalising a police station, even though he was playing in a televised match at the time.
Now, Sky News claims Al-Araibi has been taken to an immigration detention centre to be issued new papers and is set to get a flight back to Melbourne, Australia.
Since settling in Melbourne, he has played for local side Pascoe Vale but was detained at Bangkok airport by Thai police acting on an Interpol arrest warrant issued by Bahrain.
Juventus star Giorgio Chiellini, Didier Drogba, Gary Lineker and Jamie Vardy are just some of the stars who have publicly backed the #SaveHakeem campaign, with the global footballers’ union FIFPro and the World Players’ Association all lobbying hard on his behalf as well.
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The Australian government, FIFA, the International Olympic Committee and human rights groups also spoke out or wrote open letters to Bahrain and Thailand on the matter.
In a statement, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy director of advocacy Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei said: “This is a huge victory for the human rights movement in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia, and even the whole world.
“It took 70 days to end Hakeem’s ordeal but it was possible because of the solidarity of the football community, human rights movement and all those who dedicated their time and efforts to end this injustice. Now, let’s continue the fight to release all of the political prisoners who languish in Bahrain’s prisons.”