Saudi sisters on run from country were 'kidnapped at Hong Kong airport'

A spokesman for Cathay Pacific said the carrier cancelled the women’s tickets to Australia on the instruction of Sri Lankan Airlines.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Police are looking into allegations that two sisters from Saudi Arabia on the run from their country and family were briefly kidnapped at Hong Kong airport before they ended up stuck in hiding in the city without valid passports.

The pair, who have renounced their Muslim faith, fled to Hong Kong almost six months ago, midway through a family holiday in Sri Lanka.

Their final destination was meant to be Australia, but they were apprehended at Hong Kong International Airport by staff from the Saudi consulate, according to their lawyer.

On arrival at the airport on September 6, the women discovered their connecting flight to Melbourne had been cancelled, and Saudi consular staff, including the consul general, allegedly attempted to place them on a flight to Riyadh.

Vidler & Co Solicitors, which has been representing the two, said a Sri Lankan Airlines employee even briefly snatched their passports.

Human rights lawyer Michael Vidler said the sisters had filed an application for an emergency visa to a third country. Photo: South China Morning Post

Their escape prompted a pursuit across the globe by their father and uncle - high-ranking officials in Saudi Arabia - who flew to Hong Kong to file a missing persons report, multiple sources told the Post.

Hong Kong police eventually tracked down the women, at which point the two filed a report with the force, recounting their alleged ordeal at the airport, their lawyers said.

The supposedly brief stopover in the city has now turned into one which has left them stranded and fearing for their safety. The sisters have moved 13 times in the past five months, their lawyers said.

The women's passports have been invalidated, but they have only been given permission to stay in Hong Kong until next Thursday, according to their solicitors.

Human rights lawyer Michael Vidler said the pair had filed an application for an emergency visa to a third country.

Crime squads from the New Territories South region, which is in charge of airport security, were investigating the allegations but refused to disclose any further information.Photo: South China Morning Post

"We would like to see determination from this third country by that day," Vidler said.

The sisters said in a joint statement issued on Thursday: "We fled our home to ensure our safety. We hope that we can be given asylum in a country which recognises women's rights and treats them as equals. We dream of being in a safe place where we can be normal young women, free from violence and oppression."

Their plight came to light after American news outlet CNN reported that they had allegedly been physically abused back home by their father and brothers.

A similar high-profile case came to light in January in which a young Saudi woman named Rahaf Mohammed tried to flee for Australia, only to find herself detained during transit in Thailand. She has since been released after launching an appeal on social media, and has been granted asylum in Canada.

The latest case saw the two sisters run into trouble as soon as their flight touched down from Colombo. Vidler said the women followed two members of staff from Sri Lankan Airlines in the belief they would show them to Cathay Pacific Airways' check-in counter for their next flight. Instead they were taken to Emirates and given boarding passes for flights to Riyadh, the lawyer said. Their Cathay Pacific tickets were cancelled, he added.

Saudi consul general Omar Al Bunayann also appeared, according to Vidler, who cited closed-circuit television footage.

Sri Lankan Airlines did not respond to the Post’s inquiries on Thursday, although it told CNN it had acted at the request of the Saudi consulate.Photo: Handout

A row ensued between the sisters and ground staff after the latter allegedly snatched their passports.

Vidler said the women then tried to book tickets to Australia with Qantas but were too late to catch that day's flight. Their visas to the country were later cancelled.

Fearing for their safety, they then fled the airport. Three days later the women received phone messages from someone posing as a police officer, who asked about their whereabouts.

A government source told the Post the women's father and uncle had flown in shortly afterwards. The father is a prison official and their uncle works at the Saudi interior ministry, the Post has learned.

"Officers soon located the sisters and they were safe and sound," a police source said.

"We have questioned the pair, who later reported to North Point police station that they had once been kidnapped ... at the airport soon after they landed on Hong Kong soil."

Crime squads from the New Territories South region, which is in charge of airport security, were investigating the allegations but would not disclose any further information.

A police spokesman on Thursday confirmed that in early September the force received a report from two expatriate women classified as a "request for a police investigation". In the same month officers received a missing person's report from a foreign male, he said.

The Post contacted the Saudi consul general for comment but was told he was not in his office.

A spokesman for Cathay said the airline cancelled the women's tickets to Australia on the instruction of Sri Lankan Airlines.

Sri Lankan did not respond to the Post's inquiries on Thursday, although it told CNN it had acted at the request of the Saudi consulate.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong Immigration Department said it would not comment on individual cases.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post

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