HRW launches social media campaign to save abducted Saudi woman

Dina Ali Lasloom

A Philippine airline loaded a duct-taped, apparently kidnapped woman onto one of its flights in the Philippines just a week before the United Nations voted to appoint Saudi Arabia to a four-year term on its Commission on the Status of Women—a decision that caused widespread outrage.

The woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, a 24-year-old who had said she feared for her life if returned to Saudi Arabia, hasn’t been seen in public since.

A Saudi citizen, Lasloom had fled Kuwait, where she was living, and was aiming for asylum in Australia when she recorded a video on a phone she borrowed from a Canadian woman, Meagan Khan, whom she approached at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. She said she was fleeing a forced marriage and that Saudi authorities had instructed Filipino officials to take her passport and bar her from flying to Australia.

Lasloom said she feared for her physical safety and life if she were returned to Saudi Arabia. In one video, she pleads: “They took my passport and locked me up for 13 hours.… If my family comes, they will kill me. If I go back to Saudi Arabia, I will be dead. Please help me.” Several hours later, Khan said, two men Lasloom identified as her uncles arrived at the airport. Khan said she stayed with Lasloom for eight hours before leaving for her connecting flight. Khan posted a full account of the incident on her Facebook page.

A Filipino airport security official witnessed the chilling scene later and described it to Human Rights Watch, while asking to remain anonymous. At about 5:15 p.m. that same day, two Saudi airline security officials and three “apparently Middle Eastern men,” according to the official, entered the small airport hotel in Manila and abducted a woman, duct-taping her hands, feet and mouth, and delivered her in a wheelchair, still struggling, onto a Saudia Airlines flight to Riyadh. Fellow passengers later told Reuters they heard her screams for help from the front of the plane.

The organization Human Rights Watch said it obtained flight information showing Lasloom and her two uncles were passengers on Saudia Airlines flight SV871, which departed Manila at 7:01 p.m. on April 11 and arrived in Riyadh at midnight local time. A small group of activists and journalists, alerted by Twitter posts about the incident, gathered in Riyadh but said they did not observe her emerging from the plane. One of those female activists, Alaa Anazi, was arrested and has since been detained at a women’s prison.

Saudia did not respond to a request for comment on its employees’ possible involvement in the incident.

A Philippines news website reported that Saudi Embassy officials had asked officials in Manila to stop Lasloom from getting to Australia, and the Saudi Embassy in the Philippines has tweeted that the apparent kidnapping was “a family matter in which a girl was returned with her family to the homeland.”

The kidnapping and detention of Saudi women is not unusual: The kingdom’s theocracy dictates that women spend their entire lives under male guardianship and are forbidden from driving cars, and those who resist forced marriage or other male restrictions are dealt with harshly. For the past 15 years, four of the late King Abdullah’s daughters—princesses Jawaher, Sahar, Hala and Maha, all now in their 40s—have allegedly been held in a royal compound in Saudi Arabia. Two of the princesses have released videos in recent years pleading for help, and their mother, who lives in the UK, periodically publicizes their plight in the press.

This week, Human Rights Watch launched a public campaign, #SaveDinaAli, calling on the Saudi government to explain where she is and to release her.