Who else but Sam!
Thailand has released refugee footballer Hakeen al-Araibi after two months of intense lobbying, with Bahrain unexpectedly dropping its extradition case.
Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi is on his way home to Australia after being released from detention in Thailand.
Al-Araibi is on a Thai Airways flight expected to touch down in Melbourne about 1pm on Tuesday, where his wife will be waiting for him.
After two months in a Bangkok prison the Bahraini refugee was released on Monday afternoon, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirming the news.
“Hakeem al-Araibi has left jail,” Mr Morrison said in Canberra.
“He is on his way to the airport, the next step is for him to return home.”
The 25-year-old was seen chatting happily before boarding the flight that was due to leave shortly after midnight, Reuters reported.
An official from the Thai attorney general’s office, Chatchom Akapin, said on Monday 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.
The Thai Foreign Ministry later declined to give details of why Bahrain asked for the case to be dropped. However, Bahrain state media reported on Sunday that Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa had spoken on the phone with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
But after al-Araibi’s release, Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement the 10-year jail sentence remained in place and reaffirmed the country’s 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 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, and high-profile players calling for Thailand to free him.
“This is a win for humanity, for the power of citizens of the world demanding that human rights be protected,” Foster said in a statement.
Football Federation Australia thanked 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.