Thailand to free Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi

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A refugee Bahraini footballer with residency status in Australia boarded a flight for Melbourne early on Tuesday after Bahrain dropped its bid to have him extradited from Thailand, bringing to an end a case that had drawn worldwide criticism.

However Bahrain has reiterated their arrest warrant for Hakeem is still current and will seize him if he returns to the country of his birth.

Australian Prime Minister praised the decision and said late Monday that al-Araibi was on his way to the airport.

Bahrain's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the "guilty verdict against Mr.al-Araibi remains in place and Mr.al-Araibi holds the right to appeal this court verdict at Bahrain's Court of Appeal".

He has denied the charge and said the case, which has attracted worldwide attention, is politically motivated.

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Bahrain wanted him returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence he received in absentia in 2014 for an arson attack that damaged a police station, which he denies.

Former Australia captain Craig Foster has campaigned stridently for Al-Araibi's release and said his family had shed tears of joy at the news. I can't list them, but will thank each of them in time.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Melbourne-based Bahraini refugee had been released on Monday afternoon in Bangkok.

On November 27, al-Araibi was anticipating celebrating his honeymoon when he touched down in Bangkok with his wife.

Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had no comment on the case. He had been playing for a semi-professional soccer team in Melbourne before he was detained in Thailand.

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He also believes he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain.

The Guardian has been told by Gulf democracy advocates and al-Araibi's Thai lawyer that the Thai government has pulled the extradition case out of the courts.

Bahrain has a Shia majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.

Sounds familiar: Even a Bahrain government-ordered investigation reported deaths from torture in 2011 and said detainees were electrocuted, beaten on the soles of their feet, otherwise abused and reported being squeezed into tiny cells, sexually assaulted and other horrors.

"The Thai government should see that Bahrain's sole motive is to further punish Hakeem for the peaceful political opinions he expressed", Amnesty International Thailand campaigner Katherine Gerson said in an earlier statement. "(P) eople everywhere standing up for good, pushing back against regimes who flout global law, for human rights".

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