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Qunun’s Case Mirrors Saudi’s Illiberal Male Guardianship System

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi woman who fled her country, has been taken under the UN protection in Thailand. Thousands of support messages over the Internet saved the women from the “terrifying” ordeal.

Qunun’s friend, Nourah Alharbi, told the Guardian: “Yesterday, the social media supporters made the difference in Rahaf’s life.”

Now a resident of Sydney, Alharbi fled Saudi Arabia after suffering ill-treatment by her family, and took asylum in Australia. She was in close terms with Qunun during her ordeal.

In a similar case, Dina Ali Lasloom, a young Saudi woman was brought back to Saudi Arabia against her will. She was deported in April 2017, and since then her whereabouts are unknown. “She didn’t get the support from social media users, and that’s why she’s in Saudi Arabia now – she’s disappeared,” Alharbi said.

After Qunun learned of her deportation, she locked herself in a hotel room inside Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport to avoid her unwilled return to a family that would allegedly kill her, following her repudiation of Islam.

She opened up about her situation in a tweet, using Twitter hashtag #SaveRahaf, which soon got viral. People from across the world stood up in her support, and demanded to halt her deportation to Kuwait, the point of her departure. They also urged governments to provide her asylum.

According to Alharbi, Qunun’s tourist visa was canceled by Australia on which she was originally traveling.

Qunun was detained on arrival at Bangkok and denied entry to Thailand while en route to Australia, where she said she intended to seek asylum. The Guardian confirmed on Monday Qunun had a valid three-month tourist visa for Australia, issued to her Saudi passport.

Last year, deaths of two young Saudi sisters, Tala Farea, 16, and Rotana Farea, 23, uncloaked the close-lipped and speculative journeys Saudi women after fleeing their homes. The bodies of both the sisters washed up in the New York City waterfront.

They escaped from home in Fairfax, Virginia before living in a shelter, accusing the family of psychological and physical torture. Later, they came to New York City, stayed in luxurious hotels and eventually exhausted their credit card.

The motive behind their death still remains a mystery. Their bodies, with no signs of injury, were found Oct 24, 2018, along the Hudson River mantled together with tape.

New York City Police Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said, “People close to the Farea sisters told investigators that both of them would rather inflict harm on themselves — commit suicide — than return to Saudi Arabia.”

Ministry of Labor and Social Development published statistics, which shows that 577 Saudi women attempted to flee their homes in 2015. In fact, the figure is expected to be higher, actually, since many families hide runaway cases due to maintain their social status.

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