An 18-year-old Saudi girl’s desperate bid to flee her rich family was watched by the world on Twitter on Sunday as she was trapped in Bangkok airport in fear of her life. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, the daughter of an Arab businessman called Mohammed Motlaq Alqunun, told TOI she would be killed if she returned to her family.
Rahaf told TOI: “I had travelled by car to Mahboula in Kuwait on a family holiday. It was 4am in the hotel. I saw they were asleep so I just bought a ticket to Australia via Bangkok and I called a taxi and went. The Australian tourist visa is easy. My intention was to claim asylum when I reached Australia.”
“I escaped an abusive family they locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair. I’m an atheist. This is my only chance to escape.”
She said she had spoken to various lawyers on her phone but in the early hours of Monday was still waiting for someone to actually help her.
Her passport was taken away by Kuwait airlines in Bangkok after landing, she said. She was put up in a transit hotel within Suvarnabhumi Airport and told by Saudi officials and Kuwaiti airlines that she would be boarding the 11am flight on Monday (local time) back to Kuwait on a Kuwait airlines where her family was waiting for her.
“I renounced Islam when I was 16. If my family knows, they will kill me,” she told TOI.
She earlier tweeted: “I can live alone free, independent away from everyone who has not respected my dignity and has not respected me as a woman. I have enough evidence to convict my family of violence.
“I’m in real danger… the Saudi embassy is trying to force me to go back to Saudi Arabia. I am not sure I can continue or that I can stay alive unless the #Saudi embassy stops pursuing me. I am now locked in an airport hotel room, I will be forcibly returned tomorrow to Kuwait and then to Saudi Arabia, there is someone chasing me at the airport all the time, I can’t even ask for protection or even asylum in Thailand, the Thai police refuse to cooperate with me.”
“My passport was withdrawn by the Saudi embassy. My father and Saudi Arabia are trying to accuse me of being psychologically ill and I am not aware of what I am doing. I am in… danger people.”
People across the world saw her tweets and started tweeting at the UNHCR and Amnesty International asking them to help her. Some Indians even tweeted at Sushma Swaraj asking for help.
She posted videos of herself trapped in the hotel room and in one video, it is clear the door cannot be locked by her as someone opens it. She has used her security chain and pushed a table against it.
Zara Kay, founder of Faithless Hijabi, which works with ex-Muslim women who have given up Islam, said: “Ex- Muslims are subjected to death. You aren’t allowed to not be a Muslim. She will be locked up, abused and even worse killed in Saudi.
“A lot of women after leaving Islam or even while being Muslims are subjected to emotional, physical and mental abuse by their family for rejecting any values. Their lives are panned out for them, you’re either a Muslim or you’re dead, according to Shariah law. A lot of this is prevalent in the Middle East and other theocratic countries, but not limited to them. It’s not unheard of in the West with Muslim societies. Saudi has strict laws on what women can and cannot do without a male guardian. Travelling is one they can’t do without a male guardian despite her being 18,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are. You’re a woman, you’re a man’s property,” she added.