The slow progress of the situation of women in Saudi Arabia was again highlighted in the last days of 2017 when the case of two sisters of this nationality threatened with imminent extradition from Turkey, where they sought refuge from violence. family, has been known. The Turkish Constitutional Court has rejected the request for protection of one of them and must rule on his appeal in the coming days. Human Rights Watch (HRW) fears for their personal integrity if they are returned to their country.
Ashwaq and Areej Hamoud, 30 and 28 respectively, said they left Saudi Arabia last February fleeing abuse in their families. According to his story in a series of videos broadcast by a Saudi activist exiled in Europe, women were often beaten and even locked in their rooms without food because they did not conform to family demands. They say they threatened to kill them as soon as they returned. HRW, which followed the case, accredits their claims.
“If Turkey deports these women, the consequences could be disastrous. Saudi women face systematic discrimination on a daily basis, and the case of the Hamoud sisters proves that those who flee run a real risk of being sent back to abusive families,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.
Ashwaq and Areej pinned their hopes on New Zealand, where they intended to travel from Abu Dhabi in the neighboring United Arab Emirates. They had a connection through Hong Kong, where they were intercepted. “The New Zealand immigration officials denied them boarding,” their lawyer, Serdarhan Topo, told EL PAÍS. They apparently suspected that they were trying to seek asylum.
Unable to continue their journey, they flew to Istanbul, where they arrived on February 8, according to Topo, deciding to stay rather than return to Saudi Arabia. Turkey allows Saudis to obtain a visa for up to three months online. When this deadline expired in May, they attempted to obtain a residence permit. It was then that the police arrested them, as they recount in the videos they recorded, and eventually confiscated their phones. The women’s father reportedly learned of their presence in Turkey and told authorities he believed his daughters were trying to travel to Syria to join a group. jihadist
According to HRW, the sisters deny the charge and their lawyer has seen the boarding passes which prove their original intention was to fly to New Zealand, via Hong Kong from Abu Dhabi. “Turkish authorities have not opened any known criminal investigations into the women in connection with their father’s allegations,” HRW said.
“Saudi women fleeing their families or the country face the so-called violence of honor or other serious harm if they are forced to return against their will,” Whitson recalled.
It’s not just about the allegedly smeared honor of their loved ones. From a legal point of view, he also risks a possible indictment for “disobedience to the father”, a crime which does not take into account his majority. They can even be accused of “damaging the reputation of the kingdom” due to their public pleas for help. In fact, there are precedents. Last May, 24-year-old Dina Ali was returned to Saudi Arabia against her will after being intercepted in the Philippines on her way to Australia. Since then, there has been no news of his fate. Mariam al-Otaibi, 29, spent three months in prison for moving to Riyadh from Qasim, where her family abused her.
The Hamoud sisters’ lawyer tried to prevent their repatriation. He first asked the Istanbul Administrative Court to stop the deportation process, but it was rejected. He then seized the Constitutional Court to prevent a sudden extradition. When the High Court dismissed Ashwaq’s petition in mid-December, Topo filed another appeal.
“They are fine and in good health. The Turkish authorities are providing them with food, health care, clothing and Turkish lessons,” Topo explains in an email exchange, after his last visit. The lawyer, however, avoid speculating on the time he has until the extradition order is executed or going into the legal details of the case.
In the last year, Saudi Arabia has announced some reforms, among which the end of the driving ban for women stands out, or a relaxation of dress requirements (the general court of Riyadh has withdrawn the obligation for women to cover their faces when entering the venue and during the recent world chess championships it was allowed for players not to cover themselves with the abaya). However, he did not repeal the guardianship system which reduces women to eternal minors by requiring the authorization of their father, their husband or another male member of the family, to marry, study, work, travel abroad and even some medical treatment. . What is more serious, without the guardian’s approval, they cannot be released from prison even after serving a sentence.