Saudi woman detained in Bangkok, fears death sentence for renouncing Islam

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman, has been detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport after fleeing from her family. Attempting to seek asylum in Australia, she fears being killed by her own family for renouncing Islam.

According to a BBC report, Rahaf tried to flee to Australia from Kuwait two days ago while she was on holiday with her family. She says she has an Australian visa, but her passport was taken from her by a Saudi diplomat at Suvarnabhumi Airport. A Saudi envoy in Bangkok denied official involvement in Ms. Mohammed al-Qunun’s detention, was quoted as saying “she was stopped by airport authorities because she violated Thai laws”.

Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn, head of the Immigration Bureau, said that Ms Mohammed al-Qunun was “escaping a marriage” and that she was denied entry because she had no visa and was to be repatriated. However, according to online regulations of Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “[f]oreigners, who travel via Thailand to other destinations from the same port of entry, are allowed to transit without a visa.”

Thai court rejects Rahaf’s case

Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch Asia, also said that she was en route to Australia and had no intention of entering Thailand. “It seems that the Thai government is manufacturing a story that she tried to apply for a visa and it was denied,” he said.  

Thai officials are still refusing to allow her to speak to the UNHCR.

Human Rights Watch says that KU412 flight to Kuwait, on which she was scheduled to be deported, has departed, but Rahaf’s Twitter account confirms that she is still in her hotel room. This gives more time for people involved to work on the possibility of sending her to her desired destination.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun told the BBC: "I shared my story and my pictures on social media and my father is so angry because I did this ... I can't study and work in my country, so I want to be free and study and work as I want."

Under Saudi Arabia’s Male Guardianship system, every woman must have a male guardian -- either her father, brother, husband, or even her son -- who has the authority to make important decisions on her behalf. Women require their guardian’s consent to apply for a passport, travel out of the country, study abroad, or even get married.  The system also makes it difficult for a woman facing domestic violence to file a report, and many choose to flee the country.

In 2008, The Telegraph of London reported that an unknown young Saudi Arabian woman was murdered by her father for chatting on the social network site Facebook. Saudi preacher Ali al-Malik was reported as saying "Facebook is a door to lust and young women and men are spending more on their mobile phones and the Internet than they are spending on food.”  In 2017, Saudi woman Dina Ali Lasloom was stopped in transit at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila while en route to Australia to seek asylum. She was deported back to Saudi Arabia and her current fate is unknown.