Rahaf Mohammed Al Qunun
رهف محمد مطلق القنون
Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq al-Qunun
11 March 2000
|Residence||Toronto, Ontario, Canada (resettled refugee)|
|Occupation||Student • activist|
|Known for||Seeking asylum from persecution|
Rahaf Mohammed (formerly Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq al-Qunun; Arabic: رهف محمد مطلق القنون; born 11 March 2000) is a Saudi woman who was detained by Thai authorities on 5 January 2019 while transiting through Bangkok airport, en route from Kuwait to Australia. She had intended to claim asylum in Australia and escape her family who she says abused her and threatened to kill her for amongst other reasons leaving Islam, an act that is also a capital offence according to Saudi law. After appealing for help on the social media service Twitter and thus gaining significant worldwide attention, Thai authorities abandoned their plans to forcibly return her to Kuwait (from where she would be repatriated to Saudi Arabia), and she was taken under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and granted refugee status. On 11 January, she was granted asylum in Canada and arrived in Toronto the next day.
Life in Saudi Arabia
She has said that her family prevented her from getting an education, had locked her up for months, subjected her to physical and psychological abuse, wanted her to enter into a forced marriage, and threatened to kill her because she no longer follows Islam. Apostasy in Islam is a crime punishable by death according to the Sharia law of Saudi Arabia.
Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد via Twitter @rahaf84427714
based on the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, I'm rahaf mohmed, formally seeking a refugee status to any country that would protect me from getting harmed or killed due to leaving my religion and torture from my family.
6 January 2019
While Mohammed was on vacation with her family in Kuwait, she left them and boarded a flight to Bangkok, Thailand. She intended to continue on another flight to seek asylum in Australia. A tourist visa had been issued to her that permitted entry into Australia. Her family reportedly filed a missing person report after her escape from Kuwait. Upon arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, a man greeted her, not disclosing that he was a Saudi embassy official, and told her that he needed her passport so that he could help her obtain a Thai visa. He left with her passport and did not return. Mohammed never intended to leave the airport's transit area and therefore did not require a Thai visa.
Mohammed opened an account on Twitter, and in a series of posts said that she had renounced Islam and was concerned that she could be murdered by her family in a so-called "honor killing" if deported to Saudi Arabia. She also said she had barricaded herself in her hotel room, was refusing to exit until she met with UN representatives, claimed refugee status, and implored embassy officials of various Western nations to assist her in seeking asylum. This drew world-wide support, with more than half a million tweets using the "#SaveRahaf" hashtag. In one tweet, she shared a picture of her passport. Australian ABC Journalist Sophie McNeill barricaded herself with Mohammed in the room to protect her. While barricaded Mohammed also allowed a friend to tweet on her behalf.
Lawyers in Thailand filed an injunction to prevent her forced deportation. The injunction was subsequently dismissed, though an appeal was planned. Thailand's chief of immigration at the Royal Thai Police Surachate Hakparn subsequently confirmed that authorities in the country had acted at the behest of Saudi Arabia.
Mohammed was scheduled to be forcibly repatriated on a flight to Kuwait on 7 January 2019, but successfully avoided that. The Thai government later released a statement saying that it would not deport her. François Zimeray, a lawyer chosen by the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights to defend Mohammed in Bangkok against deportation back to Saudi Arabia, judged the role of Mohammed's tweets to have played an overwhelming role in preventing her deportation. Zimeray stated that the Thai authorities' attitude changed "completely" in "a few minutes" when they realized the strength of international support for Mohammed. Mohammed revealed in a later interview that she wrote a goodbye letter and decided that she would end her life if she was to be forced back to Saudi Arabia.
Initial discrepancies in Thai government's accounts of events
In an initial assessment on 5 January 2019, Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said "the Thai government... (was then) manufacturing a story that she tried to apply for a visa and it was denied... in fact, she had an onward ticket to go to Australia, she didn't want to enter Thailand in the first place." Two days later on 7 January 2019, after international pressure, the Thai official overseeing immigration in the case, General Surachate Hakparn, was seen walking beside Mohammed, and stated that "We will not send anyone to die. We will not do that. We will adhere to human rights under the rule of law." Subsequently, she was placed under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), her passport, which had indeed included a valid Australian tourist visa, was returned to her, and formal arrangements for the establishment of her long-term asylum status began.
The UNHCR issued a statement on 7 January, stating that:
The Thai authorities have granted UNHCR access to Saudi national, Rahaf Mohammed Al-qunun, at Bangkok airport to assess her need for international refugee protection... For reasons of confidentiality and protection, we will not be in a position to comment on the details of the meeting.
Mohammed subsequently left the airport in the care of the agency, which later granted her refugee status and asked the Australian government to consider granting her asylum. Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton stated in a radio interview with journalists that Mohammed seemed to be safe in Thailand. With growing concerns over her safety and an unclear timeline how long Australia would take to process her application, the UNHCR referred her case to Canada and her application was processed within several hours.
Asylum in Canada
On January 11, Mohammed flew to Toronto via Seoul, having being granted asylum by Canada, as a "resettled refugee". The UNHCR said this had been arranged "on a fast-track 'emergency' basis". She was greeted at Toronto Pearson International Airport by Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.
We are the family of [Rahaf] Mohammed al-Qunun in Saudi Arabia. We disavow the so-called 'Rahaf al-Qunun' the mentally unstable daughter who has displayed insulting and disgraceful behavior.
When [Rahaf] first arrived in Thailand, she opened a new [Twitter account] and the followers reached about 45,000 within one day... I wish you had taken her phone, it would have been better than [taking] her passport
Mohammed's case has been compared to those of Dina Ali Lasloom, and Hakeem al-Araibi. Stephen Kalin, writing for Reuters, described Mohammed's case as triggering a new phase in the Saudi anti male-guardianship campaign.
Smear campaign in Saudi Arabia
After she was resettled in Canada a smear campaign was launched against her in both Saudi mainstream media and social media, sometimes even containing conspiracy theories such as a "Canadian attempt at stirring up civil strife by inciting the Kingdom’s teenage girls to abandon social mores" in Okaz. while those that helped or sympathized with her such as Mona Eltahawy were heavily attacked. Saudi commentator Hani al-Dhaheri called her a drug addict and claimed that the fund raising campaign for her was fake and a failure and she would end up “waiting tables in a nightclub for drunkards and gangsters despite the official fund raising campaign successfully exceeding the goal of $10,000. Further the Pro-Government newspaper Al Riyadh even used the incident to promote family oversight and state control of media in order to stop “hostile ideas” from infecting Saudi youth and to save children from "intellectual penetration".
- Human rights in Saudi Arabia
- Women's rights in Saudi Arabia
- Rana Ahmad
- Dina Ali Lasloom
- Saudi Arabia – Thailand relations
- Saudi Arabia – Canada relations
- Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees ("1951 Convention")
- Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees ("1967 Protocol")
- @rahaf84427714 (6 January 2019). "This is a copy of my passport, Im shering it with you now because I want you to know I'm real and exist" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 6 January 2019 – via Twitter.
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- Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد [@rahaf84427714] (6 January 2019). "based on the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, I'm rahaf mohmed, formally seeking a refugee status to any country that would protect me from getting harmed or killed due to leaving my religion and torture from my family" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
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