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Thai court orders release of Bahrain refugee soccer player

Thai court orders release of Bahrain refugee soccer player

Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi is set to be released from custody after Thai authorities withdrew extradition proceedings against him.

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

Thailand's attorney general's office has dropped the extradition case against the jailed footballer who plays for Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne and has refugee status in Australia, a prosecution source said.

But Araibi says the case is bogus and tied to his criticism of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's ruling family.

Again, had 25-year-old al-Araibi not been a footballer, his plight likely wouldn't have evoked much of a reaction beyond the human rights groups whose days are filled with such cases.

At a news conference Monday, Morrison said al-Araibi was on his way to the airport, "as a result of the decision of the Thai government not to pursue the extradition".

The news will delight Al-Araibi and his supporters, who have launched a global campaign calling for his release.

He was convicted of vandalising a police station during 2011 anti-government protests in Bahrain and sentenced in absentia after he fled. "They all deserve to be in front of camera now, not only me".

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Before the soccer player's release, Thailand's Foreign Ministry last week released a defensive statement in which it claimed that Thai authorities "would not have become involved in the issue had we not received the red notice alert from the Australian Interpol and the subsequent formal request by Bahrain for his arrest and extradition".

Australian police acknowledge doing so, but there have been questions raised about why the Red Notice appeared to have been issued just before al-Araibi departed on his trip, and whether Bahraini authorities had been tipped off about his travel plans.

"Now the next step is for him to return home", Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

A court filing from Thai prosecutors had noted that while Thailand and Bahrain do not have an extradition treaty, extradition is still possible by law if Bahrain makes an official request - which it did - and if the crime is punishable by more than a year's imprisonment and is not politically motivated or a military violation.

Araibi was released from prison shortly afterward, and Thai officials said he would fly out that night.

"Fifa is committed to protecting human rights".

He said Federation Internationale de Football Association has not discussed imposing sanctions on either Bahrain or Thailand over the case.

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