BANGKOK: A refugee bahrain football player with a residence permit status in Australia boarded a flight to Melbourne on Tuesday after Bahrain dropped his bid to have him extradited from Thailand, ending a case that had drawn international criticism.
Hakeem Al Araibi, 25, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and received refugee status in Australia, was arrested in November last year at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport during a honeymoon, following an Interpol notification issued in Gulf State's request.
He was seen chatting pleasantly before going on a Thai Airways flight to leave Melbourne shortly after midnight. Araibi has lived in Australia since 2014 and is playing there for a local football club.
The imprisonment of Araibi, who with his feet in hanger emerged from a trial last week, took international criticism, with Australian authorities and other football players calling on Thailand to release him. Araibi had said he was subjected to torture if he returned to Bahrain.
"He is a free man," Chatchom Akapin, an official of the Thai Attorney General's Office, said Monday after Bahrain withdrew his extradition request without explanation.
Human rights group Amnesty International, who had lobbied for its release, welcomes Thailand's movement.
"It is only true that he has to go back to Australia – where his family, his football club and the country that gave him the sanctuary are waiting," said Minar Pimple, the Group's chief executive of global operations.
A Bahrain government spokesman refused to give details when asked who had ordered a stop for the trial.
However, the Bahrain authorities, who have accused Araibi of crimes committed during the Arab spring prostheses in 2011, also confirmed their right to prosecute him.
Bahrain's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had noticed the cessation of lawsuits and the verdict against the football player remained in place.
Araibi was convicted of vandalizing a police station during anti-government protests in Bahrain in 2011 and sentenced in absence after fleeing. Araibi denies the charges and says he played in a television football match at the time of the police station attack.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has said that Araibi was tortured by Bahrain authorities because of his brother's political activities during the 2011 protests. Bahrain authorities deny torture claims.
Thailand's Foreign Ministry said on Monday that it had no comment on the matter.
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the Thai move.
"We very much respect the process they have had to work through and we greatly appreciate their listening to the issues raised by our government and many others," he told a press conference.
On social networking Twitter, former Australian football candidate Craig Foster, who had helped lobby officials at FIFA Worldwide, said, "My thanks go to Thailand's wonderful people for your support and to the Thai government to uphold international law."
(Additional reporting by Paulina Duran in SYDNEY and Aziz El Yaakoubi in DUBAI; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)