(CNN) – Hakeem Al-Araibi, the refugee footballer detained in Thailand, will be freed from prison after Bahrain Monday made the shock decision to drop its extradition case.
A Thai court approved the request to drop extradition proceedings, according to Chatchom Akapin, director general of foreign affairs for the Office of the Attorney General. Chatchom said that Al-Araibi must now be released as soon as possible.
The news will delight Al-Araibi and his supporters, who have launched a global campaign calling for his release. Al-Araibi has refugee status in Australia.
Al-Araibi was arrested and detained last November, while on his honeymoon in Thailand, at the request of the Bahraini government.
The player fled Bahrain in 2014 and now plays for semi-professional Melbourne-based club Pascoe Vale.
Al-Araibi said he feared he would be tortured and killed should he be handed over to Bahrain by the Thai authorities.
“I am afraid to go back,” he told CNN during an interview inside the prison on February 4. “Please fight for me.”
Thailand’s attorney general has previously said that his case fell in line with Thai law and it would be up to the courts to decide whether he be extradited.
‘Human rights defender’
Activists campaigning for Al-Araibi’s release said that the footballer should never have been detained; an international warrant was issued for Al-Araibi’s arrest although such red notice requests are not meant for refugees.
Former Australian national team player Francis Awaritefe, who is a vice-president of the global footballers’ union FIFPro, said last week: “Hakeem is a refugee. He’s a human rights defender. And therefore, under international law, he should not be a subject of these proceedings.”
Football’s world governing body FIFA has been involved in Al-Araibi’s case, with secretary general Fatma Samoura writing to Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to campaign for his release.
In a Twitter post on Monday, Craig Foster, a former Australia football captain, who has led the charge to free Al-Araibi, said: “My thanks go to the wonderful people of Thailand for your support and to Thai Govt for upholding international law. My deepest gratitude. Also to everyone who stood for what’s right.”
Last week, the Australian Football Federation (FFA) canceled a proposed training camp in Thailand for its Under-23 men’s national team in a show of support for Al-Araibi, who has been openly critical of the Bahraini government and its record on human rights.
In 2012, he was arrested and detained in Bahrain for three months, accused of vandalizing a police station during a protest. He told CNN that he was released because he presented evidence that he was playing soccer live on TV when the protest happened.
In 2014, he was sentenced to 10 years in absentia for the vandalism charge. He fled to Australia where he was granted refugee status in 2017.