Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun Thailand, 18, detained at Thai airport.
The head of Thailand’s immigration police says a young Saudi woman stopped in Bangkok as she travelled to Australia for asylum to escape alleged abuse by her family will not be sent anywhere against her wishes.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun remained barricaded in an airport hotel room while sending out desperate pleas for help over social media.
The 18-year-old began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived in the Thai capital on a flight from Kuwait. She has been appealing for aid from the United Nations refugee agency and anyone else who can help.
The refugee agency announced overnight evening that Thai authorities had allowed its officials to meet with Ms Alqunun, but declined to give any details of their meeting, citing confidentiality.
Earlier in the day, Thailand’s immigration police chief, Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, said Ms Alqunun’s father would arrive Monday night, and that officials would see if the young woman was willing to depart with him.
“As of now, she does not wish to go back and we will not force her. She won’t be sent anywhere tonight,” Surachate said at a news conference at the airport where Ms Alqunun is stuck.
“We will not send anyone to die. We will not do that. We will adhere to human rights under the rule of law.”
On Twitter, Ms Alqunun wrote of being in “real danger” if forced to return to her family in Saudi Arabia, and has claimed in media interviews that she could be killed. She told the BBC that she had renounced Islam and is fearful of her father’s retaliation.
Ms Alqunun’s planned forced departure Monday morning was averted as she stayed in her hotel room, with furniture piled up against the door, photos she posted online showed.
Her plight mirrors that of other Saudi women who in recent years have turned to social media to amplify their calls for help while trying to flee abusive families. Ms Alqunun’s Twitter account has attracted tens of thousands of followers in less than 48 hours and her story has grabbed the attention of foreign governments and the U.N. refugee agency.
Her pleas for asylum have also brought international attention to the obstacles women face in Saudi Arabia under male guardianship laws, which require that women, regardless of their age, have the consent of a male relative — usually a father or husband — to travel, obtain a passport or marry.
It also shows the limits of reforms being pushed by Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman as he struggles to repair damage to his reputation after the grisly killing three months ago of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul.
Ms Alqunun told Human Rights Watch that she was fleeing beatings and death threats from her male relatives who forced her to remain in her room for six months for cutting her hair.
A Thai court declined to issue an injunction against her being sent back to her parents in Kuwait, from where she began her journey. A family trip to Kuwait apparently allowed her to evade Saudi Arabia’s restrictions on travel.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press that Thailand should give Ms Alqunun back her passport and let her continue her journey to Australia.
“She has a valid Australian visa,” he said. “The key thing is she should not be sent back to Saudi Arabia, she should not be sent back into harm’s way.”
Immigration police chief Surachate contradicted parts of Ms Alqunun’s story, including her claim that she had an Australian visa. However, he did not show her passport.