Saudi sisters escape to Turkey, fleeing 'abuse' at home
The runaways' case is the latest in a growing list of high-profile escapes involving Saudi women fleeing extreme restrictions in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
Sisters Dua and Dalal said they fled to Turkey to put an end to the life-long domestic abuse they have endured. They posted a video on a Twitter account, which has since then been suspended, describing their situation and asking for help.
"I’m Dua and my sister Dalal have fled from Saudi Arabia to Turkey. My father wanted marry us to old men and religious militants. We were beaten and harassed. We were threatened with imprisonment in the Women’s Welfare Center”, the sisters tweeted on their original account @RunFarAway2.
The account was initially made in December 2017 but was suspended after the sisters used it to advocate their cause, something which human rights activists fear is a result of Saudi lobbying.
“It is possible that the suspensions were due to Dua and Dalal’s family lodging malicious complaints against the Twitter accounts,” said Radha Stirling – founder and CEO of human rights organisation Detained in Dubai, in a press release.
"I certainly hope that Twitter is not censoring the sisters' story under pressure from Saudi shareholders", she added.
Radha is providing testimony on the behalf of the sisters and her organisation is managing their Twitter account.
Since Twitter suspended their original account, a video that was originally posted on there has gone viral after being recirculated.
“My father took our passport and our national identity. He is looking for us now. We are at risk. I appeal to all human rights organisations and to all human rights activists to help us move to a safe country”, Dua said in a video, with Dalal silently sitting next to her.
Dalal later shared that she was subjected to sexual abuse by her older brother and was raped by a member of the notorious "religious virtue police" near King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah.
Images circulated of the two women's passports, establishing their identity, although The New Arab could not independently verify their claims.
|Despite leaving to Turkey, Dua and Dalal remain at risk of being found by the Saudi authorities with the use of Israeli spyware.|
Saudi tracking female escapees
Despite leaving to Turkey, Dua and Dalal remain at risk of being found by the Saudi authorities with the use of spyware.
The Saudi government has been tracking female escapees according to an investigation by Business Insider.
Smartphones are usually tracked once a unique code their phones have, known as an IMEI code. It’s usually found on the box of the phone when it’s purchased.
With this code, the Saudi government is able to track the owner of the phone within a few feet of their location.
Even if the box is disposed of, the IMEI number of a phone user can be easily traced from the cellular provider via their phone number.
In February, it emerged that Saudi Arabia is using an application to let male guardians to track and prevent women from travelling, as the number of women fleeing the ultra-conservative kingdom has soared in recent years.
For human rights activists, the conditions that Saudi women are forced to endure and the lack of protection they receive from the Saudi authorities are the main causes of their escape.
"The increasing number of girls escaping is a clear indication that those who leave the country are not necessarily those who have political stances but because of injustice", Yahya Assiri, exiled Saudi human rights activist and founder of watchdog Alqst told The New Arab.
"They feel like they need a way out because of unfairness of the authorities and their inability to protect them in family disputes", he added.
|A hashtag #SaveDuaandDalal is being used, with people across the world urging support for Dua and Dalal, requesting a country takes them in as refugees|
The sisters have found support on social media after their story went viral.
A hashtag #SaveDuaandDalal is being used, with people across the world urging support for Dua and Dalal, requesting a country takes them in as refugees.
They are also condemning Twitter for suspending their accounts five times.
"@Twitter is facilitating #SaudiArabia to kidnap women. Shame on you #Twitter ! This is not the first time! you deserve a boycott. Return their account before it’s too late!", an activist tweeted.
Their current account, @SaveDuaDalal, remains active.
The sisters are using it to advocate their cause, along with discussing other daily hardships they endured in Saudi Arabia, including being harassed by women security officers for having short hair.
The new case comes amid what many are calling Saudi Arabia's own refugee crisis, triggered in part by the chilling effect of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's crackdown on freedoms and failed promises of reform especially with regard to the male guardianship system.
In April, two Saudi sisters fled to Georgia and in September two sisters fled via Sri Lanka and Hong Kong. Early this year, 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, also was under world spotlight when she barricaded herself in an airport hotel room in Bangkok after fleeing her Saudi family during a trip to Kuwait. Her social media pleas on Twitter prompted quick action by the UNHCR and she was granted asylum in Canada. Saudi women who flee the country are almost always escaping abusive male relatives and claim there are few good choices for them to report the abuse in Saudi Arabia.
If caught running away in the kingdom, they can be forced into restrictive shelters, pressured to reconcile with their abusers or detained on charges of disobedience and purportedly shaming their families.
The so-called male guardianship laws require women in Saudi Arabia, regardless of their age, to have the consent of a male relative to obtain a passport, travel or marry. According to a CNN report citing the UNHCR's public records, Saudi refugees and asylum-seekers totaled 2,392 in 2017 alone. The report also observed a spike in the numbers coinciding with the rise of Mohammed bin Salman.
The report said five countries hosted the majority of these Saudis: the United States (1,143), Canada (453), Australia (191), the United Kingdom (184) and Germany (147).
Around 1,000 Saudi women attempt to flee the kingdom each year, according to figures quoted by experts to the Insider.
The New Arab has contacted Twitter and the Turkish embassy for a comment.
Read more: Saudi Arabia: 10 Reasons Why Women Flee
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