Two Saudi sisters trapped in Hong Kong have revealed a nightmare catalog of abuse after fleeing the Middle East country.
They now fear being forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia after escaping the ultra-conservative kingdom.
The young women, aged 20 and 18, found themselves marooned after Saudi consular officials allegedly intercepted them during a stopover at Hong Kong 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 where they suffered chronic physical abuse by male family members
They claim they were beaten by their father when they were young, and by their brothers when they were older, for small transgressions such as waking up late for prayer.
“They started to beat me … my father didn’t really stop them. He thinks that this is what makes them men,” Reem told AFP.
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 traveled to Sri Lanka for a 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.
The sisters suspect their father tracked their movements using Absher, a controversial mobile app
They said their onward flight booking to Melbourne had been canceled and later learned the man was Saudi Arabia’s consul general in Hong Kong.
The sisters suspect their father tracked their movements using Absher, a controversial mobile app that operates as a portal to Saudi government services but also allows men to keep tabs on female relatives.
Fearing they were about to be “forcibly abducted,” the sisters entered Hong Kong as visitors.
The pair have lived in hiding in Hong Kong for nearly six months since and have changed locations 13 times for fear of their safety.
They also claim police attempted to take them to meet with male relatives and Saudi officials.
Hong Kong’s Security Minister John Lee said Friday that “police have received two separate reports, one regarding missing person[s] and one regarding [a] request for [an] investigation.”
He declined to elaborate further.
Immigration authorities said they would “not comment on individual cases.”
The sisters’ concerns deepened after they learned from their lawyer that their passports were revoked in November, leaving them stateless.
The Saudi consulate in Hong Kong did not respond to requests for comment.
But the sisters say they are fearful of being returned to Saudi Arabia and facing their family’s wrath.
“Either we will be killed because they want to clear [the] shame we brought as women who left by their own, or they will force us to marry … our cousins,” Reem said.
– reporting by AFP