DUBAI: Activists expressed fear today for the safety of a young Saudi woman they say was returned to the kingdom against her will, in a case highlighting tight restrictions on women.
Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, intended to flee to Australia to escape a forced marriage, Human Rights Watch (HRW) cited a Canadian witness as saying.
The witness said Dina approached her while in transit at the airport in Manila, saying “airport officials had confiscated her passport and boarding pass” for a Sydney-bound flight.
The Canadian said she helped Dina film social media videos about her plight. In one of them, she said: “If my family comes, they will kill me,” HRW said.
Arranged marriages are the norm in Saudi Arabia, where a “guardianship” system requires a male family member, usually the father, husband or brother, to grant permission for a woman’s study, travel and other activities.
“Dina’s whereabouts are currently unknown,” HRW said in a statement from Manila.
The Canadian witness, who spent several hours with Dina at the airport in Manila, reported that two of Dina’s uncles arrived, the New York-based watchdog said.
It also quoted an airline security official as saying he heard Dina “screaming and begging for help” on Tuesday before security personnel and men, who appeared to be Middle Eastern, carried her “with duct tape on her mouth, feet and hands” at the airport.
Asked about the HRW statement by AFP on Friday, the Philippine immigration department said it had held no one of Dina’s name and no Saudi national.
“There was no Saudi national by that name who presented herself,” spokeswoman Antonette Mangrobang said.
“As far as immigration is concerned, we did not hold any Saudi national.”
The spokeswoman said if Dina was a transiting passenger, then she would not have passed through immigration and it would have been up to the airline to decide what happened to her.
A Saudi activist told AFP that “Dina was brought back by force to Riyadh and is now in custody”.
Another woman, Alaa, who went to the Riyadh airport to support Dina, was arrested when she tried to inquire about her whereabouts, the Saudi activist said.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was on a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday and Tuesday when the incident occurred.
The Berlin-based European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights told AFP that “the seriousness of what Dina Ali is facing” stems from the guardianship system.
“Women’s rights are… the most prominent human rights problem in Saudi Arabia,” the group said.
The Saudi embassy in the Philippines said on Twitter that “the information that has been circulating over social media is untrue.”
It described the incident as a family matter and said: “The citizen has now returned with her family to the homeland.”