BC-AS--Thailand-Bahrain Refugee, 2nd Ld-Writethru,358
Thai court orders release of Bahrain refugee soccer player
AP Photo BKWS303, BKWS302, BKWS301
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A Thai court has ordered the release of a refugee soccer player after prosecutors said they were no longer seeking his extradition to Bahrain. Court spokesman Suriyan Hongvilai said Monday that Hakeem al-Araibi was now being processed for release. Thai prosecutors asked the court to withdraw the case to extradite al-Araibi to Bahrain earlier Monday. They said that was after Bahrain indicated that it had withdrawn its request for him.
BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai court ordered the release of a refugee soccer player on Monday after prosecutors said they were no longer seeking his extradition to Bahrain in a case that had drawn worldwide attention.
Court spokesman Suriyan Hongvilai said that Hakeem al-Araibi, who lives and plays professional soccer in Australia, was being processed for release.
Prosecutors on Monday submitted to court a request to withdraw the case to extradite al-Araibi to Bahrain, where he faces a 10-year prison sentence for an arson attack that damaged a police station. He has denied those charges and says the case is politically motivated.
Prosecutors made the decision after Thailand's foreign ministry sent their department a letter Monday morning that indicated that Bahrain had withdrawn its request for al-Araibi, said Chatchom Akapin, the director general of the attorney general office's international affairs department
Officials in Bahrain, an island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia that's home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
The state-run Bahrain News Agency reported Sunday that Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa had a phone call with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, but offered no specifics on their discussions.
Separately, BNA said Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa met Sunday with Thailand's foreign minister who was visiting the island. Again, no specifics on their talks was offered.
Al-Araibi, 25, a former Bahraini national team player, has said he fled his home country due to political repression. He has been living in Melbourne, where he plays for a semi-professional soccer team.
His supporters have said he should be freed and is protected under his status as a refugee with Australian residency. He was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on a holiday at the request of Bahrain relayed through Interpol.
Al-Araibi has said he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten while he was held in Bahrain previously. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain. Bahrain has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.