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Saudi Teen Renounces Islam, Flees Family, Claims Asylum In Canada

January 18, 2019

A teenager from Saudi Arabia has arrived in Canada after fleeing her family and barricading herself in a hotel in Thailand.

 

Rahaf Mohammed (formerly Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, but she has renounced her surname), 18-years-old, was traveling with her family to Kuwait when she fled and boarded a plane to Thailand.

In Bangkok, her passport was seized by a Saudi diplomat and immigration authorities threatened to deport her back to Saudi Arabia.

 

Mohammed knew that would be a death sentence for her. She admitted to the BBC later that she had renounced Islam, a crime punishable by death in her home country.

 

She documented her arrival in Bangkok, and later her detention at the hotel, using her smartphone. She created new Twitter and Periscope accounts to post frequent updates on her situation. She quickly gathered an outpouring of support online.

 

"During this time, I was thinking about what kind of goodbye messages I would write, because I was not going to allow them to take me. I was prepared to end my life before they kidnapped me," she told reporters.

 

Mohammed's situation quickly went viral, and her plea for asylum led to the UN granting her refugee status on last week. On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada announced that his country would welcome her.

 

Mohammed was quoted as saying, "I feel very safe in Canada, a country that respects human rights. I feel born again from feeling the love coming from everyone waiting for my arrival."

 

Not everyone is loving the situation, though. The executive director of Costi Immigrant Services, Mario Calla, has revealed that his agency, which is assisting Mohammed, has had to hire a private security guard for her because of the threats she has received online.

 

Despite what happened in Bangkok, and the threats online, Mohammed said that, "It's something that is worth the risk I took. I had nothing to lose." Speaking through an interpreter, she said, "We are treated as an object, like a slave. We could not make decisions about what we want."

 

Saudi Arabia has a guardianship system, in which women must obtain permission from a male relative to do many things.

 

"In the beginning they locked me up for six months after I cut my hair... because it is forbidden in Islam for a woman to dress like a man," Mohammed told reporters at an office in Toronto.

 

"But I was mostly exposed to violence by my mother and my brother. They were beating me and there was corporal violence," she also said.

 

Prime Minister Trudeau received some criticism over the expediency that was shown towards Mohammed, when there are many other refugees also seeking asylum in Canada. Trudeau responded that this particular instance was in response to a "specific and precise request" made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

 

Calla, commenting on the situation, said that this is not the first time something like this has occurred. He said that his organization gets two or so "urgent protection" cases like Mohammed's each year.

 

I hope that Mohammed is able to get the continued support she needs to make a new life for herself in Canada. What she did was incredibly brave, not only for liberating herself from the only life she knew, a brutal one under Islamic Saudi Arabia, but she has also drawn attention to the plight of all the women still suffering in Saudi Arabia.

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