By Jacob Atkins
A Saudi woman attempting to flee from her “abusive” family and seek asylum in Australia has reportedly been forcibly returned to Riyadh after being gagged, tied with duct tape and wrapped in a sheet by two uncles while on a stopover in the Philippines.
Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, a Saudi national currently living in Kuwait, landed in Manila in the early hours of Monday morning, on a routine layover en route to Sydney, where she claims she intended to claim asylum. She says she had secretly obtained a tourist visa, seen by The Australian, from the Australian embassy in Kuwait. Saudi women are not allowed to travel without approval from their male guardian, and Saudi embassies are known to assist families in tracking down women who have fled abroad.
After Ms Lasloom’s arrival, she claims her passport, boarding pass and travel documents were confiscated by Philippines Airlines staff and she was told that “someone important” had instructed them not to allow her to board her 11am flight to Sydney.
A Twitter feed apparently set up in her name has laid out the claims she made about her ordeal and posted pictures of her boarding pass.
“They took me and locked me up for thirteen hours, just because I’m a Saudi woman, with the co-operation of the Saudi embassy,” Ms Lasloom claimed in a video sent to a Saudi activist and posted online. “If my family come, they will kill me. If I go back to Saudi Arabia, I will be dead. Please help me. The Philippines government and Saudi are violating human rights and international law. I am kept here as a criminal, I can’t do anything, I can’t go out.”
The video has since gone viral, along with the hashtag #SaveDinaAli.
It is unclear why the young woman feared being killed if she was forced to return to Saudi Arabia. She told Meagan Khan, a Canadian tourist who came to her aid at the airport, that “her family, her uncles, are very strict, and abusive to her, so she ran away.”
“She told me she was a teacher, she said ‘they forced me to become a teacher or be a slave’. She is not allowed to leave the house without a guy at all,” a distressed Ms Khan told The Australian after landing in Bali.
On Monday afternoon, two men who Ms Lasloom identified as her Saudi uncles, whom she described as diplomats and who were accompanied by a woman from the Kuwaiti embassy, approached Ms Lasloom and Ms Khan. “Her face just collapsed and she said ‘they’re here Meagan!’ As soon as she saw them her eyes started swelling up with tears,” said Ms Khan, who lent Ms Lasloon her phone to put her posts up on Twitter.
One of the men later claimed to be her father, which Lasloom angrily denied.
An airport employee told The Inquirer newspaper Ms Lasloom had insisted the man was her uncle. “She (Lasloom) kept telling us: ‘They kill me if I go back’,” he told the newspaper.
According to Ms Khan, police briefly interviewed Ms Lasloom before she demanded a lawyer be present. A local lawyer was then hired for $1200, however Moudhi Aljohani, a feminist activist who spoke with Ms Lasloom a number of times during her ordeal, claimed that the lawyer was hired by her family so that it could be claimed that she had received legal representation.
According to Ms Aljohani, Ms Lasloom was “tricked” by police officers into being moved to Terminal 1, where she avoided being forced onto a Saudia Airlines flight by screaming and physically resisting, attracting the attention of other passengers. Ms Lasloom also alleged her uncles physically assaulted her in the presence of Filipino officials.
Another employee, who did not wish not be named, told The Australian he witnessed the second, successful attempt to haul Ms Lasloom from the airport hotel onto Flight SV871 to Riyadh on Tuesday evening.
“They just take her from her room. The moment they entered her room I heard Dina screaming and shouting and asking for help,” said the witness. “They put duct tape on her mouth and hands and her feet and they carried her while she was struggling, from the hotel to the aircraft,” he said.
“She was begging for help but all diplomatic Arab person and Saudian [sic] security staff forced her to go out [of] the hotel,” he said in a text.
He added: “I can’t do anything because they are powerful persons from her country.”
Ms Lasloom has reportedly now landed at Riyadh airport.
The Australian has contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for comment and had the request passed to the Department of Immigration.
Calls to the police department at Manila International airport were not answered on Tuesday night. It is understood that the airport confirmed Lasloom’s detention with an Amnesty International representative.
Taleb Al Abdulmohsen, a self-described ex-Muslim who aids people attempting to flee Saudi Arabia, said that Lasloom did not disclose her beliefs or circumstances to him, however most of those who seek his counsel are domestic violence victims, gay or have rejected Islam.
He said that the thirty people he last year helped leave successfully had opted to seek refuge in Australia, and said that one woman who attempted to flee to New Zealand was nabbed on a layover in South East Asia and forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia, where he says she has suffered sexual abuse by a male relative.
Our people who went to Australia have no complaints at all,” said Al Abdulmohsen, “they tell people that there is really good freedom and people are welcoming.”
UNHCR statistics show that sixteen Saudis were granted asylum by Australia in 2015.
The Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte, is currently on an official visit to Saudi Arabia, which hosts over one million Filipino guest workers.
Tags: Australia, Dina Ali Lasloom, Duterte, Filipino guest workers, human rights, If I Go Back They'll Kill Me, Philippines Airlines, Rodrigo Duterte, Saudi Arabia, Saudi national, Saudi women are not allowed to travel without approval from their male guardian