Father of late Saudi sisters rejects suicide conclusion: Report

Last week, a medical examiner said that the sisters had committed suicide by walking into the Hudson River in 2018.

    Rotana, left, and Tala, right, were found dead in October 2018 on the banks of the Hudson River [Handout:NYPD via The Associated Press]
    Rotana, left, and Tala, right, were found dead in October 2018 on the banks of the Hudson River [Handout:NYPD via The Associated Press]

    The father of two young Saudi women whose bodies were found bound together in New York last October has dismissed a police assessment that they committed suicide and said marks he saw on their faces indicate they were beaten before their deaths.

    Tala Farea, 16, and Rotana Farea, 23, who had previously lived in Virginia, were found along the rocky Manhattan shore of the Hudson River with duct tape around their waists and ankles.

    A New York Police Department official has said they likely entered the water alive and were said to have preferred suicide over returning to Saudi Arabia.

    Their mother told detectives the day before the bodies were discovered that the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, had ordered the family to leave the United States because the daughters had applied for political asylum, the Associated Press reported in October, citing police.

    An embassy spokeswoman denied that at the time.

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    New York City Chief Medical Examiner Barbara Sampson said in a statement last week that her office "determined that the death of the Farea sisters was the result of suicide, in which the young women bound themselves together before descending into the Hudson River".

    Following the most recent reports, Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner, said her office "stands by its initial determination". 

    Saudi Arabia's human rights record has come under intense scrutiny after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate last year and the flight to Thailand of an 18-year-old woman who alleged abuse by her family, which they denied.

    Among the Saudi restrictions on women is the requirement that they have the permission of a male "guardian" to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

    Father denies claims

    The Saudi news site Sabq published an interview on Monday with the women's father, who was not named, denying police claims that they had been subjected to physical abuse, and accusing a Virginia investigator of abducting the women and blocking him from retrieving them.

    "He told us that he had withdrawn the report and placed the girls in a safe place," Sabq quoted the father as saying.

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    "We tried to communicate later with this investigator, but he refused to respond. He asked us to go to the court on the grounds that the case had been transferred there, but when we went, we did not find any trace of the case," the father added.

    He said when he viewed his daughters' bodies at the morgue before taking them back to Saudi Arabia, "we found bruises filling both their faces... especially the younger one, which confirms they were heavily beaten before they died". 

    Fairfax, Virginia police, and the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    Editor's note 31/01/2019: This story has been updated to include a response from the New York City's medical examiner's office. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies