When the story of an allegedly kidnapped Saudi woman hit the news-stands in Yemen, most readers were outraged, immediately assuming that the young woman had been dragged away from the safety of her family to the violence and danger of Yemen by a group of unscrupulous men, whose designs could only be amoral.
As it turned out, Huda al-Niran, a 22 year-old Saudi woman willingly ran away from her home to marry the man she loves, Arafat Radman of Yemeni descent. While the idea of a Saudi woman and a Yemeni man getting married is far from being newsworthy, Huda’s determination to by-pass her family’s objection to Radman as a suitable suitor and her subsequent escape to Yemen, has generated a mini political sand-storm.
The Romeo and Juliet of Yemen have now become the focus of a broad women rights campaign. Activists both in Yemen and abroad have argued that since Huda fears for her safety and physical health should she returned to Saudi Arabia shamed, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have called for her admission into Yemen under refugee status.
“With a woman’s safety at stake, the Yemeni authorities should allow UNHCR to interview her,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “Many Saudi women have a very real fear of violence and worse if they marry a man who isn’t their family’s choice.”
In a statement published on Tuesday, HRW wrote, “The Yemeni authorities should not return a Saudi woman to her country without considering her claim that the Saudi government will not protect her against life-threatening family violence. The government should halt any deportation order against her and allow the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to interview her in detention to review her asylum claim.”
On October 21st, after Huda was arrested at the Yemeni-Saudi border in company of her suitor, Arafat, she wrote a letter to the UNHCR seeking asylum in Yemen on humanitarian grounds. The Human Rights Ministry which has been following the case very closely and actually facilitate the delivery of the letter to the right authorities, explained that it “believed sending her back to Saudi Arabia would put her life at risk.”
Aware that Saudi Arabia has applied political pressure onto the coalition government to secure Huda’s return to her family, HRW has urged the authorities to consider their legal obligations within the parameters of the Refugee Convention.