By now you’ve probably heard about the story of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, the Saudi teenager who fled from her family and is seeking refugee status in Australia.
While transiting in Bangkok, she was interdicted by a Saudi diplomat, who snatched her passport and essentially attempted to kidnap her, vowing to return to her family. Under Saudi law, she has no right to travel without a male guardian. She had denounced Islam and escaped an arranged marriage she was dreading.
But this wasn’t The Kingdom, this was Thailand. And for a couple days, it looked like Thailand would capitulate to the Saudis and deport her. But Rahaf bravely barricaded herself in a transit hotel room and Thailand now says she will be allowed to continue to Australia if her asylum petition is approved. In the meantime, she will remain in Thailand while her claim is evaluated.
It takes a lot of gall to try to kidnap someone on foreign soil, doesn’t it? Perhaps this should not be a surprise from a Kingdom emboldened to murder journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.
But my main issue is not with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but with Thailand. How could it let this happen in the first place? How could a sovereign nation allow a foreign agent to so aggressively and openly operate on its soil? And how could Thailand initially just casually dismiss the matter as a family dispute?
All this makes me more hesitant to fly to Thailand than to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi official should never have been allowed to harass Rahaf. With few exceptions, Saudi law does not extended beyond the Kingdom’s borders. If a nation cannot protect transit passengers and tourists, it makes me much less likely to visit than an authoritarian nation who may not respect civil liberties but keeps visitors safe. I felt very safe when I visited Saudi Arabia.
> See More: Pictures from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Freedom of conscience is a pillar of what it means to a human. It takes a certain amount of courage to flee a dangerous situation and I do not doubt that Rahaf feels genuine concern for her safety. Under Saudi law, she can be punished not just for her act of independent travel but for disgracing the Kingdom, which she has certainly done by shedding light on her plight. Thailand eventually did the right thing, but its initial reaction gives me grave concern.
I’m not so afraid that I would personally hesitate to travel to either nation. But what happened in Thailand does make me feel quite uneasy from the perspective of a traveler.
How about you? Do you feel a certain unease visiting a nation that turns the other way as to how transit passengers are treated?
I’m with you. I simply cannot understand how and or why the Thais allowed the Saudis to have a voice in this. There has to be more to this story than is being reported.
It certainly makes you wonder about their respect for the rule of law.
Unbelievable. If she’s deported back to Saudi Arabia most likely she will be sentenced to life in prison or beheaded/ shot or quartered. So much from the followers of the religion of peace.
Wow – you are so amazingly naive. You should read up on the human rights record of the Saudi government compared with the Thai government. That should make you reassess your feeling of safety and security whilst visiting Saudi Arabia. #whitemaleprivilege
I didn’t spare any punches in my assessment of Saudi Arabia above. You think I don’t know about Saudi human rights abuses? I’ve been there and seen them firsthand. #IgnoramusAni
#ignoramusAni hahaha! I agree with Matthew; he’s not saying that Thailand is worst than Saudi, but that this business as usual for the Kingdom, but outta line for Thailand to let a foreign government pull such a move on their soil.
Except that I thought Thailand and the Saudis despised each other, given that Saudi still hasn’t forgiven Thailand over a decades old gem theft incident involving a Thai national. As a result, i was under the impression that the two countries suspended diplomatic ties.
Ani, the moment you pulled the #whitemaleprivilege canard, you lost. Matthew’s right.
Having visited both I would Agree 100%. Bangkok is one of the safest places to visit – even safer than most American cities. Maybe not the best place to seek asylum (Hong Kong would be better as Ed Snowden demonstrated, or perhaps Ecuador) but safe for people of all religions, races and gender prefs. Saudi Arabia is completely the opposite. There is no safety for non-Muslims, non-heteros or for political expression contrary to the Kingdom. Women have no rights. You can be jailed at the whim of the government or even executed. I dread even transiting this place.
@Boraxo: But I’m only speaking in terms of being a foreign traveler.
You’re simply being illogical and silly. Thailand is one of the most visited countries in the world. All but a handful come and go without incident, regardless of their transgressions. You will not be offorded the same wide bearth in Saudi Arabia, most certainly not if you are a woman or a homosexual. This is an embarrassing political matter for Thailand for sure, but it it is a one off case, unlike for Saudi Arabia.
Your blog is bordering on the ridiculous now. It’s hard to take you seriously anymore.
Have you ever been to KSA? Foreigners don’t get assaisnated or kidnapped in Saudi airports.
No, just in their consulates.
Be careful in those!
I agree “illogical and silly” not to mention based on muddy claims and counter-claims. I’m sure we will have the real facts of who the Saudi official really was and how he managed to lift Rahaf’s passport in the not-so-near future; in the mean time lets blame the Kingdom of Thailand for this debacle! In reality, this is much more of a KSA/Muslim thing than a dangerous Thailand thing. The KSA doesn’t kidnap foreigners in airports – it just dismembers it’s citizens in foreign consulates.
Don’t be so sure this is a one-off. There have been at least a few cases of the Thais complying when the Chinese “request” (or bully if you prefer) the return of dissidents they’ve tracked to Thai soil. While still isolated in the grand scheme of things, there is a history here of the Thai government looking the other way in diplomatic disputes.
Personally, I disagree with Matthew that the Thais looking the other way while a Kingdom diplomat does the country’s dirty work is worse than the KSA’s abhorrent human rights record or sending a diplomat to intercept an asylum seeker to begin with. But that’s a matter of opinion and I’d hardly call his stance “silly”.
To be clear, I am not speaking at all about KSA’s abhorrent human rights record when making my comparison. Yes, KSA is much worse. I am only speaking about where I feel safer as a traveler. I’ve been to both countries on multiple occasions and feel safer in KSA. That’s my experience.
“I felt very safe when I traveled to Saudi Arabia” – because I’m not a woman – because I’m not gay – because I’m not Jewish – all of which would be perfectly acceptable in the Kingdom of Thailand (but I see your point).
@Scott B: and your point is well-taken. Indeed I’m speaking from a position of personal observation.
I should have been clearer in my response – personally I view pervasive human rights abuses as a greater threat to my safety as a traveler than diplomatic shenanigans. But that’s just me. I choose to draw my lines in the sand a little differently.
I’m having trouble following Matthew’s argument. If KSA is out to get me, I would feel safer in the Thai airport than on KSA soil.
I’m talking about travelers generally, not the persecuted Saudi woman others marginalized within KSA.
Matthew.. I like your blog, but this is not your best. This article makes zero sense. Just delete it.
With respect, I see the matter differently. I’ve been to both places and feel much safer in KSA. I speak from experience. You are free to disagree. But I never said I feared either place enough not to go—I just don’t like how Thailand handled this incident.
Don’t think for one moment I am oblivious to the disgusting human rights violations of KSA. I am simply talking about where I feel safer traveling to.
All these people who are so quick to dismiss the author’s argument have never been to Saudi Arabia. The country may not be a beacon of freedom, but it is very safe, especially for pilgrims and other guests.
Thailand has been trying to mend the diplomatic relationship between itself and Saudi Arabia since the Blue Diamond Affair back in the late 80’s. This became a huge back eye between the Saudi Royal Family and the Thai Royal Family. During the 70’s and 80’s Saudi Arabia was a huge destination for Thai workers seeking to jobs in order to support family back home (particularly those in the poorer Isan region of Thailand).
After the incident, Saudi Arabia stopped issuing and renewing new work visas for Thai citizens. And, officially Saudi Arabian citizens not encouraged to visit Thailand. There are no scheduled passenger flights between the two countries aside from Hajj charter flights.
Thanks — reading about the Blue Diamond Affair was really interesting and provides useful background on the relationship between the two kingdoms.
Matthew this doesn’t make any sense?
You are right to be concerned about the Thais allowing this to happen, but that is not sufficient to make it more dangerous there than KSA.
If we are considering the threat to you personally, assuming you are an honest follower of all local laws, you are only at risk of false charges /false imprisonment when in Saudi, or when in Thailand a diplomat attempting to remove your passport without even them having a shred of procedural (but not moral) authority to do so.
both of these are quite unlikely to happen – but of the two the false charges in Saudi is far more likely to occur!
As an American woman who travels alone, would I ever go to Saudia Arabia… OH. HELL. NO…. Would I travel alone to Thailand alone? OH. HELL. YA.! … Of course you felt safe in Saudia Arabia, you’re a dude!
This literally the stupidest thing I’ve read on boarding area. Good for you for going to KSA and supporting an evil regime. Why don’t you ask Jamal Khashoggi what he thinks? Oh wait….
@nazgul, life is a little more nuanced than boycotting a country because we don’t like its human rights record.
How about it’s support of terrorism and spreading the most virulent forms of extremist Islam around the world?
They are an enemy of the West and western values. They aren’t the only country opposed to our values, but certainly one of the worst regardless of their friendliness with our government (past and present).
I despise the Saudi human rights record but you’re really being too hard on the Thais. Maybe they were stalling while investigating the backstory of the whole drama. “The Saudi official should never have been allowed to harass Rahaf”. Gee, do you expect them to stop or tail every foreign agent who enters their airport. maybe take a lie detector questioning their intentions? I doubt the Saudi told the Thai’s ahead of time what he intended to do to the poor woman.
Many people are ridiculously naive when it comes to Thailand, generally preferring to believe the absolute, utter , total BS about “the land of smiles” ( and that phrase was trotted out again yesterday , in the time it became clear that this story was not looking good for Thailand internationally, and the immigration chief said “ We are Thai, the land of smiles; we don’t send anyone to their death”). It’s a joke…
There are reasons why the expat death rate in Thailand is extremely high ( for ALL nationalities); only some of it can be explained by too much sex, booze, drugs, natural causes.
It is a very dangerous place, probably not seen so much during a fleeting visit.
Frankly a visit to Saudi Arabia is far safer than Thailand, although I wouldn’t go back there in a million years.
This “land of smiles” crap seems to work for Thailand, so they keep repeating the lie.
Why do these points bloggers think that after reading about a diplomatic issue like this that suddenly you are a CNN journalist?!! This is a half-baked article, and a lame one at best. Thailand is completely safe and coming from an American it is total nonsense to suggest a travel ban to Thailand based on a farfetched kidnapping concern scenario! You are not the State Department! Give me a break.
James, did you actually read the article or just the headline? No one suggested a travel ban. Quite the opposite, I state above that I would still go to both places. But Paolo is correct. Saudi Arabia is safer. That doesn’t make it better. It certainly doesn’t make it good. But it is safer.
James, I feel like you read this blog only to disagree with Matthew!
It’s the Saudi money. They use it to bribe people. You see white Republican males give up pretending to have any morals when it comes to Saudi money so then why pick on the Thais? Though I agree if you go to those parts you will stop associating buddhism with peace.
Religion is the cover psychopaths use to legitimize their crimes.
What do white males have to do with this? Your argument loses all credibility when you make broad statements like that to DEMONIZE all of us who are white and male.
I demonized REPUBLICAN white male. You know the ones who can’t gve a shit about khashoggi murder because Saudis will spend 140 billion on US weapons (maybe.)
Would those jerks care if a non white american citizen had been murdered instead of khashoggi? I doubt it. They are whores for money. More than loss of credibility of my argument is the loss of credibility of all white Republican males. People question openly now if they are even decent human beings. And your messiah trump has helped focus that thought clearly.
Aren’t booze, drugs and sex dangers self-inflicted? So you’d rather go to a heavy handed state that bans and imprisons people for those same things and has no freedoms?
So, a basis for your sense of safety is that foreigners don’t get kidnapped or assassinated on Saudi soil? How would you know this?
While this incident is focused on KSA and Thailand, there are many other countries that have poor human rights abuses or similar incidents; they just seem to get a pass from most travelers.
Do you really think the United States or EU is free from this kind of situation or worse incidents?
The bottom line for every traveler is what level of abuse is acceptable? What do we ignore, a Diplomatic infringement, human rights abuses, or human trafficking?
What lies do we tell ourselves to feel comfortable to travel the world?
she was interdicted by a Saudi diplomat at BKK airport? Do you have a credible source for this assertion? I mean, how the hell does that happen? Are Saudi diplomats hanging out in foreign airports preying on Saudi nationals on the run?
BBC, the same story I linked to in my article.
Her father had reported her missing, so they were prepared for her when she arrived. Not sure how they knew she was on a flight to Bangkok.
Your assessment is derived from false equivalency, yes, Thailand behaved poorly and didn’t act in a manner conducive to UN human rights policy…but this is a pretty isolated incident on the part of Thailand. This is a routine act of aggression on the part of Sandia Arabia. There is virtually NO chnace that anyone who transgresses against Islam will have a safe and easy transit or stay in Saudi Arabia. There is almost a certain chances that anyone who transgresses against Buddhism will have a safe and easy transit or stay in Thailand.
Yes, Thailand behaved poorly. But Thailand was just the passive player in this fiasco. Saudi Arabia is the active player and the bad guy here. Don’t forget it,
I get your point, but this is illogical. You feel/felt safe in KSA because they treat (white) (male) foreigners well. However, if Rahaf was a white male foreigner, this also wouldn’t have happened to her in Bangkok.
I absolutely agree that Thai authorities actions were incorrect and outrageous and there are some very serious questions that they need to answer. But your post here just seems like your trolling.
(Also, shouldn’t you then be concerned about traveling to any of the many, many countries where the US has been involved in extraordinary rendition? Somehow, I don’t remember you writing about how you were fearful to visit Italy on your trip there.)
she should have been allowed to continue on to Australia as was her plan.
less chance there of any corruption to take place with her plight
You are exaggerating Thailand’s role here. The initial confrontation and revocation of the passport could not really be prevented by Thailand. Barring consular officials from interacting with their citizens and controlling their government’s property (I.e the passport) can’t really be done.
And without a travel document she can’t board a plane to Australia. At this point without higher level intervention deportation to country of origin is the default, she does not have a visa for Thailand and cannot be reasonably said to be in transit.
It appears that after some people in their foreign ministry were informed (and dithered some before deciding) she was allowed to stay temporarily pending a temporary travel document issued by Australia.
Nothing here that is any sense sinister, it can all be explained by the initial responders on the scene backing the letter of the law and the Saudi diplomatic official instead of sticking their head out.
The Saudi behavior here is plainly indefensible. And if they will do this on other countries soil where they do not control the media and police I have no confidence in their behavior within Saudi Arabia.
I’m not going to say you’re wrong, because you’re not, your feelings are yours and they can neither be quantified into right nor into wrong. However, what is the point of you expressing your feelings on this? The relevant topic is Rahaf Al-qunun, and I’m sure she obviously has the opposite opinion of you about which country she would rather fly to. I’m sure every person that is seen as a dissenter by KSA has the opposite opinion as you. Which begs me to ask who are you that your feelings are relevant in this matter and why you feel the need to express them? I don’t mean any disrespect and please don’t take my tone as hostile, but it seems to me that you either just like to stir the pot and start shit or it appears that you are being paid by Saudi Arabia to release positive propaganda for the kingdom meant to subvert attention away from their human rights abuses. Either way I don’t believe you’re adding anything positive or useful to the larger conversation; sometimes we all have thoughts that are best kept to ourselves or else they make us look foolish and uncredible
I don’t dismiss your point nor the constructive way in which you expressed it. I even agree with most of it. Even so, the narrow point of my article was to express my experience/observation that it is safer for a traveler to transit KSA than Thailand.
You give me far too much credit to even entertain the thought that I would be a Saudi mouthpiece.
If you think involvement in all things Saudi started with the Trump administration and is limited to “white male Republicans”, you’re an idiot (actually, I think we were all quite aware of that already). It’s been going on for ages. Recently from 2009 to 2016, as reported by the lefty think tank Center for International Policy, the Obama administration concluded 42 separate arms deals with Riyadh totaling more than $115 billion, a higher sum than during any previous administration.
I understand in your TDS triggered state, it may be hard to comprehend, But there are many other examples going back to the early 70’s that include administrations of both parties. Religion certainly has nothing to do with it.
Matthew , really like your blog but this article seems a bit off. I would argue after some 20 visits to TH that the roads are less safe than Saudi Arabia given the recent statistics I saw, and as often mentioned never say anything bad about the Thai Royal Family. Otherwise you are pretty safe in TH ……. and they are very tolerant overall no matter how obnoxiously drunk one might be or however hard you party or what you do (within the law).
Of course KSA might be safer and while I have never been there I assume that it’s natural life is “safer” in a place where the government has total and complete control. Punishment is a little stricter in KSA also for offences of all sorts…and you can google how “safe” PH maids were in KSA (to the point that most are gone now)
While I can’t say for sure but maybe the TH reaction also has something to so with the local TH Muslim population in S TH where there have often been some issues (and yes small bombings too even on Koh Samui)
The details of this somewhat bizarre incident possibly never come to light but fail to see how this can make TH less safe overall.
She should have fled Saudi Arabia by car.
Matthew, this doesn’t look like a typical case of transiting in an airport. She had no money, no return air ticket, and there are conflicting reports on whether she had a valid visa for Australia.
This is a specific case of someone seeking asylum, rather than being a simple traveller. I do hope that it works out for her, and she can be re-settled in Australia as she wishes.
Actually something similar happened in 2017 in Manila airport and few people seemed to notice. In that case, the woman was sent back to Saudi Arabia and never heard from again.