Sana’a: A Saudi woman who fled her home last month to seek asylum in Yemen said that she would rather die than be forced to return home and marry a man she did not love.
“She has repeatedly said that she would kill herself if she was forced to return home and not be allowed to marry her beloved Arafat”, Abul Rageeb Al Ghadhi, the girl’s lawyer, told Gulf News.
The girl’s case came to the fore when the Saudi daily Okaz reported in mid-October that a Saudi man’s 21-year old daughter Huda had been abducted from their house in the Saudi province of Asir. Nearly ten days after her disappearance, Huda appeared before a Yemeni court saying that she was not abducted but willingly ran away from her family’s home to Yemen when her family refused her beloved’s marriage proposal.
The girl told the Saudi website Okaz Al Youm that she and Arafat had been in contact with each other on the sly for three years. “I love him and I told my family that I would only marry him, “
Arafat used to work as a salesperson in a mobile phone store in her village.
She said: “When I decided to escape, I went to a street and found three men in a pick-up truck who agreed to take SR2,000 (Dh1,958) to drop me off at the Yemen border,” she said.
As the girl was not carrying any form of identification, she told the Saudi border guards that she was Yemeni.
According to a website, when she arrived at the Yemeni side of the border, the girl contacted Arafat and told him that she came to Yemen to marry him and to escape a forced marriage.
Huda said that her beloved rushed to the Yemeni border to help her. But Yemeni police arrested them both and referred them to Sana’a’s Southwest Court for prosecution. He was accused of aiding the girl in her illegal entry to Yemen. The girl is being tried on that charge.
Al Ghadhi said: “The girl did not commit any crime. She came to the Yemeni side of the border to seek asylum. Arafat also came to the border to help her when he learnt about her escape.”
In all the court’s hearings, Huda refused to be defended by lawyers sent by the Saudi embassy in Sana’a.
The girl’s family accused Arafat of using magic to mislead their daughter. The Saudi daily Okaz interviewed the girl’s parents and the would-be husband who appealed to the Saudi government to bring back their daughter and punish the “abductors”. The father said that his daughter was under a “strong magic spell” when she ran away from home.
Upon hearing about Huda’s ordeal, the Sana’a-based HOOD human rights organisation sent a lawyer to defend her in the court.
“We support Huda since she is a human being who wants to defend her right of choosing her partner,” Abdul Rahan Barman, the executive director of HOOD, said.
“Her return to Saudi Arabia puts her life at risk. We discussed her case with the Nations High Commissioner for Refugees who agreed to review it. The moment she is granted asylum, the government has no right to take any actions against her.”
At the same time, sympathisers in Yemen launched a campaign on social media to lobby support against possible extradition of the girl to Saudi Arabia. Among prominent Yemeni figures who expressed sympathy with both the lovers was Tawakkul Karman, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
She posted on her Facebook page: “I declare my complete support with the Saudi girl, Huda, which is being tried on charges of illegal entry. I demand [Yemeni authorities] to treat her as a refugee with full protection assigned by international conventions.”
Human Rights Watch urged Yemeni authorities not to send the girl back to her family as she may face “life-threatening family violence”.
The court’s next session on Sunday is expected to discuss more facts about the case and is not expected to hand down any decision, according to Al Ghadhi.