Since this article was written, Thai authorities have allowed Rahaf a temporary stay in Thailand while the UN evaluates her case.
Saudi Arabia is attempting to force 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun to return to the country after being apprehended in Thailand en route to Australia where she had hoped to seek asylum.
Reportedly, Saudi officials confiscated her passport and intercepted her at Bangkok airport where she has publicly appealed for asylum and for support from human rights organisations, fearing that she will be killed if returned to the gulf state.
Rahaf is clearly not alone in feeling that her basic rights are violated in Saudi Arabia; there are untold thousands of women who feel the same sense of desperation that drove Rahaf to flee her family,’ she said.
Even Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has acknowledged that the country needs to improve in the area of women’s rights. If Rahaf is deported, the hopes of women throughout the kingdom, and indeed, the Gulf, will be crushed.
When someone makes very serious allegations of abuse, torture, or a threat to their life; authorities have to take it at face value and allow the proper protocols of investigation to occur.
It has been reported that Rahaf had a visa to go to Australia and intended to apply for asylum; it was due to Saudi intervention that she has not made it. It is unacceptable that the government from which someone is fleeing be permitted to interfere with their asylum request; and totally against diplomatic norms for a third country to cooperate in hindering such a process.
Whatever dangers Rahaf may or may not have faced before she took to social media, the fact is, now that she has criticised Saudi Arabia, Islam, her family, and “shamed the nation”; there is every reason at this point to fear that she could be jailed for many years and be subject to human rights violations and torture. She has violated Saudi laws in seeking to travel without the permission of her male guardian and has now further violated a number of laws and outraged the regime.
There are reports that she is receiving death threats and that Saudi men are calling for her to be hanged as an example to other would be ‘rebels’.
We have already witnessed Thailand’s detention and potential deportation of Hakeem Alaraibi to Bahrain, a country from which he fled following his torture in prison for political dissent. And now Rahaf has been detained, against accepted protocols, and faces the likelihood of deportation to Saudi Arabia where it is expected she will suffer severe violations of her human rights.
Authorities in Thailand should be aware that this kind of collaboration with authoritarian regimes, consenting to deport individuals in total disregard for their safety; will inevitably harm the country’s position in the international community.
The world cannot, on one hand, demand greater freedoms and rights for women in Saudi Arabia and, on the other hand, cooperate in denying women those rights and freedoms.
Radha Stirling, is founder and CEO of legal and human rights organisation Detained in Dubai, representative of Princess Latifa of Dubai (who escaped the UAE but was later forced back via a military operation) and respected analyst of Middle East Policy.