Saudi woman held at Bangkok airport fears death if repatriated

Woman, 18, said she is in transit to seek asylum in Australia, fleeing from family abuse.

    A Saudi woman was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she landed in Bangkok's airport and her travel document was forcibly taken from her [Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images]
    A Saudi woman was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she landed in Bangkok's airport and her travel document was forcibly taken from her [Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images]

    A Saudi woman held at Bangkok airport said she would be killed if she is repatriated by Thai immigration officials, who have confirmed the 18-year-old was denied entry to the country.

    Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun told the AFP news agency on Sunday she was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she arrived in Suvarnabhumi airport and her travel document was forcibly taken from her, a claim backed by Human Rights Watch.

    "They took my passport," she told AFP, adding that her male guardian had reported her for travelling "without his permission".

    Al-Qunun said she was trying to flee her family, who subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

    "My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair," she said, adding that she is certain she will be imprisoned if she is sent back.

    "I'm sure 100 percent they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail," she said, adding that she was "scared" and "losing hope".

    AL-Qunun was stopped from entering Thailand when she flew in from Kuwait on Sunday, Thailand's immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told AFP.

    "She had no further documents such as return ticket or money," he said, adding that Rahaf was currently in an airport hotel.

    "She ran away from her family to avoid marriage and she is concerned she may be in trouble returning to Saudi Arabia. We sent officials to take care of her now," he said.

    HRW decries Thai action

    He added that Thai authorities had contacted the "Saudi Arabia embassy to coordinate".

    But al-Qunun disputed his account, saying that she was in transit to seek asylum in Australia, where she claimed to have a visa, and was accosted by Saudi and Kuwaiti embassy representatives when she deplaned in Suvarnabhumi airport.

    Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director, decried the actions of the Thai authorities.

    "What country allows diplomats to wander around the closed section of the airport and seize the passports of the passengers?" he said, adding that there is "impunity" within the family unit in Saudi Arabia to abuse women.

    Immigration head Surachate said al-Qunun would be sent back to Saudi Arabia by Monday morning.

    "It's a family problem," he said of the case.

    Another Saudi woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, was stopped in transit in the Philippines in April 2017 when she attempted to flee her family.

    An airline security official told activists that Lasloom was heard "screaming and begging for help" as men carried her "with duct tape on her mouth, feet and hands" at the airport.

    The Saudi embassy in Thailand and officials in Riyadh could not be reached for immediate comment.

    Saudi cleric's son: 'Everyone is threatened'

    UpFront

    Saudi cleric's son: 'Everyone is threatened'

    SOURCE: News agencies