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Refugee footballer freed

In this file photo taken on Feb 4, 2019 Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahraini refugee and Australian resident, is escorted to a courtroom in Bangkok. (AFP)

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The Criminal Court has freed refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi after Bahrain dropped its extradition request, a public prosecutor said on Monday, following a global outcry over the risks he faced if sent back home.

"We have been informed that Bahrain wants to withdraw the (extradition) request... if they don't want him, we have no reason to keep him here," Chatchom Akapin, director general of the International Affairs Department told AFP, adding the process is underway to release him.

Araibi was reportedly freed at 3.55pm on Monday and was expected to return to Australia on Monday night.

While taking note of a "halt of legal proceedings" against Araibi, Bahrain's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that a 10-year jail sentence imposed on Araibi in absentia by a Bahraini court remained in place and reaffirmed its right to "pursue all necessary legal actions against him".

Former Australia national team captain Craig Foster, who has been leading the campaign for Araibi's release, praised all those who worked on the campaign.

"Many wonderful people stepped forward to help Hakeem,'' he wrote Monday in comments on Twitter. “They all deserve to be in front of camera now, not only me. I can't list them, but will thank each of them in time. My thoughts are with Hakeem's wife. Her nightmare will shortly be at an end. Our prayers answered.”

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 football team.


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