The sisters must be allowed to build their lives without living in fear that their family or the Saudi authorities will force them back.Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International
Responding to news that two sisters from Saudi Arabia, known as Reem and Rawan, whose lives would have been in danger had they been sent back to the Kingdom, have now left Hong Kong to live safely in a new country, Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International, commented:
“It is great news that Reem and Rawan are now in a safer place. They showed immense courage and took huge risks to escape the repeated abuse by their male relatives. The sisters must be allowed to build their lives without living in fear that their family or the Saudi authorities will force them back.
“Reem and Rawan’s male relatives got away with repeated beatings because of the lack of adequate protection against domestic violence in the country. This is only one facet of the systemic discrimination that Saudi women face under Saudi Arabia’s repressive guardianship system. This system not only treats women like second-class citizens, it places them in grave danger. No woman or girl should fear for their life like Reem and Rawan did. Saudi Arabia must urgently reform the guardianship system and end the whole range of discriminatory laws and practices women face.”
The sisters, who are aged 18 and 20 and are known by the pseudonyms Reem and Rawan, for their own protection, fled Saudi Arabia after suffering repeated beatings by male family members and being treated “like slaves.” They arrived in Hong Kong last September when transiting. Within hours, they were blocked from continuing their journey by Saudi consular agents at Hong Kong International Airport. With no other option available to them, the sisters left the airport and lived in hiding in Hong Kong.
The sisters subsequently learned that their passports had been revoked, making it impossible for them to extend their visas to remain in Hong Kong. Reem and Rawan were allowed to stay in Hong Kong as “tolerated” overstayers. The period of toleration was extended and due to expire on 8 April, while the sisters explored third country resettlement options.
Had they been taken back to Saudi Arabia, the sisters would have likely faced retaliation by their family members or criminal charges for leaving their homes without the permission of their male guardian, for escaping the country and for renouncing Islam. In Saudi Arabia, “apostasy” is a serious crime that carries the death penalty.
Under Saudi Arabia’s repressive guardianship system, women and girls face systematic discrimination, both in law and in practice. They are unable to travel, engage in paid work or higher education, or marry without the permission of a male guardian. Women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia who have campaigned against the repressive male guardianship system have been arbitrarily detained since May 2018 under conditions of torture and other ill-treatment and are now prosecuted, facing harsh prison sentences.