An 18-year-old woman claims that she is currently being held against her will in a Bangkok hotel room after being ‘abducted’ from the arrival gate by Saudi Arabia diplomatic staff.
Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq al-Qunun claims that Saudi Arabian diplomats intercepted her as she was de-planing a Kuwait Airlines flight from Kuwait when it landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport earlier today (Jan 6) as she was travelling to Australia.
Ms al-Qunun claims that in addition to confiscating her passport, Saudi officials forcibly took her to the Miracle Transit Hotel on the airside of the airport, where she is being held until they take her home. Thai police, she said, had refused to help her.
In a series of tweets in Arabic and English Ms al-Qunun claims that “her life will be in real danger” if she is forced to return to Saudi Arabia.
In a twitter exchange with AEC News Today Ms al-Qunun said Saudi officials intend to force her aboard Kuwait Airlines flight KU 412 scheduled to depart Bangkok to Kuwait City tomorrow, January 7 at 11.15am local time.
Ms al-Qunun said that she had seized on the opportunity to flee years of domestic abuse, beatings, and death threats inflicted on her by her parents and male members of the household while visiting Kuwait. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Kuwait does not require the approval of a male member of a household in order for an adult woman to travel.
Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said it “did not have any information”. Additional questions as to whether Thailand will allow Ms al-Qunun to be forcibly put onboard Kuwait Airlines flight KU 412 on January 7 were not immediately responded to.
Emails to the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Bangkok were not responded to.
Human Rights Watch outrage
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director, Human Rights Watch, described the situation as appalling, and called on Thailand to allow Ms Rahaf access to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representatives in Bangkok.
“Ms Rahaf says she fears for her life if she is returned to Saudi Arabia and her family, who have physically and psychologically abused her for daring to assert her independence.
“The way she has been treated, and the danger she faces, shows clearly how Saudi Arabia tramples women’s rights, and in the case the right to leave one’s country.
“What is particularly appalling is how the Saudi Arabian government has acted in sending an official to physically seize her passport from her in Bangkok airport. She is 18-years-old, she has an Australian visa, and she has the right to travel where she wishes and no government should interfere in that”, he added.
Mr Robertson also called for the “Thai government to explain why diplomats from Saudi Arabia are allowed to walk in closed areas of the Bangkok airport, seizing one of their citizen’s passports”.
Immigration cop aided in abduction
This would not be the first occasion that someone has been abducted in the secure area — airside — of Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Last May a Chinese woman was abducted from Suvarnabhumi Airport by five people — four Chinese and one Thai national — and held for Bt15 million (about US$470,000) ransom.
CCTV footage at the time showed the woman being ushered through two security checks at the airport by two of the gang, with other members in close proximity.
It was revealed at the time that the gang had received the assistance of 10 Thais — including a top immigration cop inside the airport. The woman was released after a Bt10 million ransom was paid.
On October 2 last year Saudi dissident and a journalist for The Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi, is presumed to have been murdered while inside the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Turkey to collect papers needed for his marriage.
Despite international outrage few concrete actions have been taken in response to the presumed murder.
As a party to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Thailand is obligated not to return anyone to a territory where they face a real risk of torture or ill-treatment. As the newly installed chair of Asean the manner in which Thailand handles Ms Rahaf will also define its view on human rights throughout the region for the year ahead.
As of 5am January 7, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not responded to multiple foreign media requests posted to a dedicated communications channel established for the speedy dissemination of information to foreign media.
This has been an AEC News Today Breaking news story. No further updates will be made to this story
This story was last updated at 14:15 on January 9: The spelling of Ms Alqunun’s name was changed to al-Qunun.
Feature image David McKelvey
He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia.
He has covered major world events including the 1991 pillage riots in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010 and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Prior to AEC News Today he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.