11 Feb 2019

Thai court frees Melbourne-based refugee

10:31 pm on 11 February 2019

A football player and refugee whose detention in Thailand sparked an outcry will be freed and will return to Australia after Bahrain withdrew its extradition request, officials say.

Bahraini refugee, Hakeem Al-Araibi arrives at Thailand's Criminal Court to submit his evidence to fight his extradition

Hakeem Al-Araibi is led into court in Bangkok during an earlier hearing. Photo: AFP

Melbourne-based refugee Hakeem Al-Araibi, who is a Bahraini citizen, fled to Australia in 2014 and was granted political asylum.

He was detained in Bangkok in November on an Interpol notice requested by Bahrain. He had travelled to the Thai capital on honeymoon.

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

Al-Araibi, 25, denies the charges and human rights activists say he could face torture if sent back to Bahrain.

People hold up banners at a rally in Melbourne on February 2, 2019, supporting Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi who was detained by Thai immigration authorities in late November after arriving in Bangkok from Australia for a vacation with his wife. -

Supporters attend a rally in Melbourne this month seeking Hakeem Al-Araibi's release. Photo: AFP

His case has been taken up by high-profile footballers, with stars including Didier Drogba and Jamie Vardy calling for his release.

Former Socceroos captain and prominent broadcaster Craig Foster led the campaign to have him freed who said many wonderful people had stepped forward to help Hakeem.

He was confident Australian embassy staff in Bangkok would take care of the footballer before he flew back to Australia later tonight. "There'll be tears there tonight, as there are in our household right now."

The Australian government, Fifa and other football bodies have also supported his case.

Thailand's Office of the Attorney General (OAG) asked the court to end proceedings against Al-Araibi because Bahrain had said it no longer wanted him, officials told BBC Thai on Monday.

"This morning the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed us that Bahrain was no longer interested in this request," OAG foreign office chief Chatchom Akapin said.

Al-Araibi plays for Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne.