HONG KONG: Two Saudi sisters trapped in Hong Kong say chronic physical abuse by male family members prompted them to flee the kingdom, where they now fear they will be forcibly returned.
The siblings are the latest example of Saudi women plotting their escape from the ultra-conservative kingdom only to find themselves dodging officials and angry family members, as the country battles criticism of its human rights record.
The young women, aged 20 and 18, found themselves marooned after Saudi consular officials allegedly intercepted them during a stopover at the city’s airport and later revoked their passports.
The pair, who have adopted the aliases Reem and Rawan, described a deeply unhappy upbringing in a middle-class Riyadh household.
They claim they were beaten by their father when they were young, and by their brothers when they got older, for small transgressions such as waking up late for prayer.
“They started to beat me... my father thinks that this is what makes them men,” said Reem.
Even their 10-year-old brother participated and began to police the way they dressed, they say, chiding them for removing their scarf when dining out.
“He was only a child but he learned this from the elders and from all the men around him, that this is the good way to be a man and to deal with women,” Reem said.
They decided to bolt for freedom during a family holiday overseas, when their passports would be kept in their parents’ bag instead of a safe – and when they would not need permission from a male guardian to travel abroad.
They started planning for the trip two years ago to coincide with Rawan’s 18th birthday, so that she could apply for a visitor’s visa to Australia on her own.
The opportunity arrived last September, when the family travelled to Sri Lanka for vacation.
While their parents were sleeping, the sisters retrieved their passports and boarded a flight from Colombo to Hong Kong.
But trouble awaited them at the other end. They claim they were obstructed by several unknown men at the city’s airport, including one who tried to trick them into boarding a plane back to Riyadh.
They said their onward flight booking to Melbourne had been cancelled and later learned the man was Saudi Arabia’s consul general in Hong Kong.
But despite all the troubles and the Saudi embassy trying to put a stop to their plans, they are now hoping to be granted asylum in a third country.— AFP
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