1. Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has been freed from prison.
Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi is on his way home to Australia after being released from detention in Thailand.
Al-Araibi is expected to touch down in Melbourne about 1pm on Tuesday after spending more than 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 Bangkok Post tweeted on Monday night that he was expected to be on a Thai Airways flight arriving at 1.05pm on Tuesday.
He 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 refused 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 spoke on the phone with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
But after al-Araibi’s release on Monday, 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, 25, 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.