Saudi asylum seeker deletes Twitter account after death threats, friend says

Geneva Stokes
January 12, 2019

Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, is escorted by the Thai immigration officer and UNHCR officials after gaining protection from the agency. No other details were immediately offered.

She meant to fly on to Australia, but barricaded herself in a hotel room in Bangkok's main airport on Sunday after Thai immigration officials attempted to deport her back to the Middle East.

Qunun was granted UNHCR refugee status after she locked herself inside a hotel room at the Bangkok International Airport and launched an international social media campaign to prevent Thai authorities from deporting or handing her over to her family.

She was allowed to enter Thailand temporarily under the protection of the United Nations refugee agency, which is expected to take about five to seven days to study her case and her claim for asylum.

Strict Saudi social rules typically require women to have permission from a male "guardian" to travel. Many Saudi women fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases have gone unreported.

At the same time supporters of Ms Qunun take to Twitter to wish her well in her new life in Canada, trolls and supporters of the Saudi government have been using the #revealrahaf hashtag to discredit her as sexually promiscuous.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed his country had granted her asylum.

The office of Canada's foreign minister however, said it could not confirm that asylum had been granted.

The move is sure to further strain Canadian relations with the kingdom that went sideways last August over Ottawa's rights criticism of Saudi Arabia, prompting Riyadh to expel the Canadian ambassador and sever all trade and investment ties in protest.

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Ms al-Qunun has also claimed her family would kill her if she were sent home to Saudi Arabia, where she has renounced Islam and "rebelled" against her father.

The Australian Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, earlier signalled a willingness to look at the case.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, tweeted: "Rahaf temporarily suspended her #Twitter account because she has been receiving some very nasty, very real death threats".

Payne said in her statement that she will raise his case with the Thai government to find ways for his safe return to Australia.

'Rahaf received death threats and for this reason she closed her Twitter account, please save Rahaf life, ' @nourahfa313 wrote.

More recently, Hakeem al-Araibi, 25, a former soccer player from Bahrain who had been granted refugee status in Australia after speaking out against a Bahraini official, was detained in late November in Thailand.

"Canada has been unequivocal that we will always stand up for human rights and women's rights around the world", he said.

The UN's refugee agency has said it considers her to be a legitimate refugee. "And when the United Nations made a request of us that we grant Ms. Alqunun asylum, we accepted".

"The safety of Ms Al-Qunun has always been the Australian Government's primary concern, and we have been working with the UNHCR and worldwide partners to ensure her claim is assessed appropriately", he said.

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