Australia

'Speechless': Australia celebrates Hakeem Al-Araibi's release after Thai ordeal

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Footballers, politicians and friends have reacted to the news that Hakeem Al-Araibi is set to walk free.

Australia is celebrating the news that refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi is coming home.

On Monday, the Thai attorney-general's office confirmed the extradition case against Mr Al-Araibi had been dropped and he would be free to return to Australia.

Former Socceroo Craig Foster, who championed the fight to bring the footballer back to Australia, told SBS News "it's stunning, it's very emotional".

"Speaking to all the people involved, who have worked so hard over this time to try and save his life, it's an incredible feeling," he said.

Hakeem Al Araibi has walked free from a Thai jail.
Hakeem Al-Araibi has walked free from a Thai jail.
AAP

"Once he touches down in Melbourne, that's when I think everyone will be just incredibly elated."

Foster, who is also an SBS host, is expected to fly to Melbourne to meet the 25-year-old when he touches down.

Lou Tona, the chairman of Mr Al-Araibi's football club Pascoe Vale, said the past few months had been an "unbelievable ride".

Former Socceroo Craig Foster is expected to meet the 25-year-old at the airport.
Former Socceroo Craig Foster is expected to meet the 25-year-old at the airport.
Twitter

"We're very excited about Hakeem coming home, now we're waiting for him to touch down on the tarmac in Melbourne. We just want to see him back here," he said.

"It's been so fatiguing, it's been so difficult to comprehend what is going on for him.

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"I'm sure he's going to be very thankful when he comes back. What we've managed to achieve, everyone, the whole football community and Australia has been unbelievable."

A Thai police car, believed to be carrying the refugee footballer, leaves the detention centre.
A Thai police car, believed to be carrying the refugee footballer, leaves the detention centre.
Reuters

In a tweet, Football Victoria thanked those who got behind Mr Al-Araibi, saying "the Victorian football community was united as one to help raise awareness and advance the campaign to #SaveHakeem".

Fatima Yazbek of the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, who had tirelessly campaigned for Mr Al-Araibi, told SBS News she was "speechless".

"There are no words which can describe our feelings at the moment," she said.

Ms Yazbek said she had talked to Mr Al-Araibi's family, after word of his impending release emerged.

"They were very happy, they were very grateful, there were so many tears in the call, so many laughs in the call, contradicting emotions," she said.

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Scott Morrison on Hakeem Al-Araibi's release
Scott Morrison on Hakeem Al-Araibi's release

Political world reacts

In a joint press conference, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the news.

"It was a complex process ... but we now have an outcome for Hakeem. For him and his many supporters, that's the most important thing," Ms Payne, who had previously traveled to Thailand and raised the case with her Thai counterpart, said.

"We look forward to seeing you back home, Hakeem": Scott Morrison.
AAP

While Mr Morrison said, "we look forward to seeing you back home, Hakeem".

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"What we'd like to do tonight, is to thank and show our appreciation to the Thai government for the decision they've taken today," he said.

"We greatly respect the process they have had to work through and greatly appreciate them listening to the issues by our government and many others who have raised this case."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten tweeted it was "the right decision".

"Looking forward to seeing you back with your family and joining Pascoe Vale FC on the field," he said.

"Thank you to the Thai authorities for understanding our concerns and the Thai court for respecting Hakeem's right to return to Australia."

Former Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane called it "amazing news".

"Kudos to everyone who has spoken up to #SaveHakeem - most of all, the indefatigable Craig Foster. So happy for Hakeem and his family," he tweeted.

The court decision

Earlier Monday, the director of the Thai attorney-general's international affairs section Chatchom Akapin said Bahrain had requested the case be dropped.

He said the extradition case against Mr Al-Araibi, who was wanted by Bahrain over the vandalising of a police station in 2012, was dropped by the Criminal Court on Monday afternoon.

Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi
Refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi in Bangkok.
AAP

Chatchom 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.

Months behind bars

Mr Al-Araibi 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 denies the charges and says he was playing in a televised match when the police station attack took place.

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