The Bahraini footballer, who has refugee status in Australia, was arrested in November while on honeymoon in Thailand. Bahrain had attempted to extradite him for a crime he claims he didn't commit.
Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi was released from the Bangkok remand prison in Thailand on Monday after authorities dropped an extradition case against him.
A criminal court in Thailand had ordered his release after prosecutors submitted a court request to withdraw al-Araibi's extradition case to his native Bahrain, where he faces a 10-year prison sentence.
"There are no grounds to hold him anymore. It is his right to decide where he will go next. He is a free man," said Chatchom Akapin, an official in the Thai Attorney General's office.
Australia confirmed that al-Araibi was on his way back to the country, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying he was "pleased Hakeem is coming home."
"We would like to show our appreciation to the Thai government for the decision they have taken today," Morrison said in Canberra, adding that Australians "greatly appreciate their listening to the issues that have been raised by our government and many others who have raised this case."
Craig Foster, a former Australian soccer international who led the campaign to free al-Araibi, expressed his "deepest gratitude" on Twitter.
We understand that @prayutofficial Govt and court has ruled to release Hakeem. 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 ? #Hakeemhome— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) February 11, 2019
Bahrain's foreign ministry said in a statement that it has taken note of a "halt of legal proceedings" and reaffirmed its right to "pursue all necessary legal actions against him."
The 25-year-old footballer was arrested in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport in November while on his honeymoon. Bahrain had attempted to extradite him so he could serve a 10-year prison sentence for an alleged arson attack that damaged a police station. He denies the charges, which he says were politically motivated.
Al-Araibi was originally arrested in 2012. He told German public broadcaster ARD in 2016 that his legs were beaten during his detention. He believed he was targeted because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy. Bahraini authorities have denied allegations of torture.
In 2013, he fled the country while on bail and playing for the national team in Qatar. He eventually settled in Australia in 2014, where he has refugee status. He had been playing for a semi-professional soccer team in Melbourne before he was detained in Thailand.
Al-Arabi's extradition case quickly grew international attention, with non-governmental organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch calling for his release. Al-Araibi's wife also begged for his release in an open letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, saying her husband would face "imprisonment, torture and possible death" if sent back to Bahrain.