Saudi Teen Barricaded in Hotel Room Wins Reprieve

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun begs Thai officials not to send her home, saying she'll be killed
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 7, 2019 3:22 AM CST
Updated Jan 7, 2019 6:33 AM CST
Atheist Saudi Teen Pleads for Asylum
Alqunan says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia.   (Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch via AP)

A young Saudi Arabian woman who barricaded herself in an airport hotel room in Bangkok, saying that her life will be in danger if authorities send her back to her family, has won a reprieve. Thailand authorities will allow her to stay, at least temporarily, while they investigate her case, reports Reuters. Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, had told the New York Times that her homeland is like a "prison." She said she managed to escape her abusive family while on a visit to Kuwait—which, unlike Saudi Arabia, does not require women to seek the approval of a male guardian before traveling—but was stopped at Bangkok's airport Saturday and tricked into surrendering her passport before she could catch a flight continuing on to Australia. Thai authorities had planned to send her back to Kuwait, but she said her brothers and other family members would be waiting to kill her.

In a series of tweets, al-Qunun pleaded for asylum. "They will kill me because I fled and because I announced my atheism," she said. "They wanted me to pray and to wear a veil, and I didn’t want to." Previously, Thai authorities said the teen left her homeland due to a "family issue" and lacked the documents for onward travel. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch told the BBC that isn't true. "She had an onward ticket to go to Australia; she didn't want to enter Thailand in the first place," said Robertson. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says it is following the case and seeking permission to meet with al-Qunun, the AP reports. (More Saudi Arabia stories.)

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