The decision to free a professional footballer from jail in Thailand has been hailed as a “huge victory for human rights” worldwide.

Hakeem al-Araibi, 25, fled his home in Bahrain because of political repression and was granted asylum in Australia in 2014 where he plays semi-professional football.

However, the former Bahraini national team player faced extradition back to Bahrain after he was detained by Interpol while on his honeymoon in Bangkok in November. His extradition is in relation to a 2014 sentence in absentia of 10 years in prison for vandalising a police station – something he has always denied.

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The footballer, who has been a vocal critic of Bahraini authorities including the royal family, feared he would be tortured if he was sent back to the country.

But he was freed from prison on Monday after his case attracted worldwide attention and the support of high-profile footballers such as Jamie Vardy and Didier Drogba who called for his release.

Prosecutors made the decision after Thailand’s foreign ministry sent their department a letter on Monday that indicated Bahrain had withdrawn its request for al-Araibi to be extradited.

Sayed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, praised his release.

“This is a huge victory for the human rights movement in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia – and even the whole world,” he said.

“Hakeem’s ordeal ended after 70 days when there was a clear public stance and solidarity movement.”

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

“Many wonderful people stepped forward to help Hakeem,” he said on Twitter.

“I can’t list them, but will thank each of them in time. My thoughts are with Hakeem’s wife.

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“Her nightmare will shortly be at an end. Our prayers answered.”

Al-Araibi claimed 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 Shia faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain.

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

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week that al-Araibi was detained because Australian authorities had forwarded them an Interpol red notice that Bahrain was seeking his arrest.

Australian police acknowledged doing so, but there have been questions raised about why the red notice appeared to have been issued just before al-Araibi departed on his trip, and whether Bahraini authorities had been tipped off about his travel plans.

Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison had in recent weeks spoken out strongly on behalf of al-Araibi’s freedom.

Associated Press contributed to this report


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