Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said refugee to Australia, footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has left prison and his “on his way to the airport” in Bangkok.
However the PM could not confirm if he would return home tonight saying “people aren’t home until they’re home”.
Earlier today, a Thai court ordered Mr al-Araibi’s release after prosecutors said they were no longer seeking his extradition to Bahrain.
There were reports he could be on his way home to Australia as soon as this evening, Bangkok time.
But at a press conference late on Monday, the PM and Foreign Minister Marise Payne said there was still “a process’ to go through before the footballer was airborne.
The pair particularly thanked former Australia captain and SBS football presenter Craig Foster, the Pascoe Vale Football Club and Australians of the Year Dr Richard Harris and Dr Craig Challen for their help in securing Mr al-Araibi’s freedom.
Football Federation Australia chairman Chris Nikou also praised the footballing community and said justice had prevailed: “We have seen our community unite in an extraordinary way over the past few months to campaign for Hakeem’s release.”
Thailand had been under enormous pressure to release Mr al-Araibi who had been granted asylum in Australia and claimed his life was at risk if he were to be returned to Bahrain.
Mr Foster, who has led the campaign to free Mr al-Araibi said the footballer’s wife’s “nightmare will shortly be at an end”
Court spokesman Suriyan Hongvilai said Monday that Hakeem al-Araibi was now being processed for release. AP reported it had spoken to a senior Thai official who has said Thailand has “no reason” to keep him in the country any longer.
Mr 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.
Mr Al-Araibi had been held at the Bangkok Remand Prison for two months after Bahrain said it would proceed with the extradition.
He was sentenced to 10 years’ jail in absentia for vandalising a police station in 2012, despite footage of him playing in a televised football game minutes before the attack.
Mr al-Araibi is a refugee living in Australia and has said he would be in grave danger if he was returned to Bahrain.
A global outcry ensued over the risks he faced if he were to be sent back home.
On Monday, Chatchom Akapin, director general of the International Affairs Department said the process is underway to release him.
He told BBC Thai they were informed by the Foreign Ministry that Bahrain wanted to drop the case, but he did not know the reason why. He said the decision was made under Section 21 of the Prosecution Act which allows for cases to be dropped if they are not in the public interest. “We had a phone call from the Foreign Affairs Ministry this morning and they said Bahrain doesn’t want him anymore,” Mr Chatchom said.
“If they don’t want him, we have no reason to keep him here,”
Many wonderful people stepped forward to help Hakeem. 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 #Hakeemhome
— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) February 11, 2019
Craig Foster had championed Mr al-Araibi ’s plight, even travelling to Thailand to lend his support. On Monday evening he tweeted that “our prayers answered”.
On Monday night, Mr Morrison said: “As a result of decision of Thai Government not to pursue the extradition case before it Hakeem al-Araibi has left jail and he is on his way to the airport.
“The next step is for him to return home but as always in these cases, people aren’t home until they’re home.”
He thanked the Thai Government for its decision and said the relationship between Australia and Thailand was “very strong”.
Ms Payne added “there are a number of steps to go in this process but it’s important to acknowledge that Hakeem al-Araibi has been released from prison and he is in the process of moving to Bangkok Airport to ultimately board a flight back to Australia in the next day.”
She praised the work of the Australian footballing community as well as the staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Bangkok who had provided Mr al-Araibi with consular assistance.
Mr Morrison had written twice to the Thai prime minister asking for Mr al-Araibi ’s release. “It’s not my job to get upset — it’s my job to get him home and that’s what we’re working towards,” Mr Morrison said in an address to the National Press Club on Monday. “But I would ask Australians, who I know desperately want to see him come home, that we have to manage this carefully.
“We have to be patient. It’s not a straight up and down issue. I know it looks like one.” Thailand has blamed Australia’s Interpol office for alerting them to an international red notice on Mr al-Araibi ’s passport, but Australia says Bahrain should never have issued the notice in the first place.
Mr Morrison did not answer a question about Australia’s role in Mr Al-Araibi ’s detention, or what steps have been taken to ensure it isn’t repeated.
“I’m not at liberty to go to the last part of that question because of the matters it relates to,” Mr Morrison said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is set to meet with Mr al-Araibi ’s wife in Canberra on Wednesday.
Cave diving heroes and Australians of the Year Dr Richard Harris and Dr Craig Challen on the weekend joined the campaign to release Mr al-Araibi. The pair played a crucial role in the daring rescue of 12 young boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand, drawing worldwide praise.
Originally published as Hakeem al-Araibi has left prison