Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Disappeared #Saudi couple highlights crackdown on activists

Story of married Saudis' disappearance last year resurfaces debate on kingdom's crackdown on dissidents.
The cases of Saudi stand-up comedian Fahad al-Butairi and his wife, Loujain al-Hathloul, a women's right-to-drive activist, who were arrested in 2018, has resurfaced following a Twitter thread detailing their disappearance.
In a series of tweets, American writer and television producer Kirk Rudell spoke about his friendship with the Saudi couple who tried to challenge the kingdom's strict social rules.
The tweets about their disappearance went viral, spotlighting Saudi Arabia's crackdown on activists and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October last year.
Nine months later, Loujain is still in jail. I don’t know where Fahad is. He deactivated his Twitter.

I read that they are no longer married.
I’d like to see what they could do in this world, if they were given the chance.

I’d like the government of my country to not take payoffs to look the other way at human rights atrocities.

I’d like to have that dinner with them some day.
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Rudell tweeted about messages he shared with the couple after meeting them in Los Angeles a few years ago.
"I'd like to see what they could do in this world, if they were given the chance," said Rudell, adding, "I'd like to have that dinner with them some day."
In a follow-up tweet, Rudell said he was "overwhelmed" by the response to his tweets, including one from California Congressman Adam Schiff, who said he would contact Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States about the case.
"I've been overwhelmed by the interest in and support of this story. It has been humanity-affirming and the best possible expression of Twitter in action. My intention was to bring the plight of Fahad and Loujain to the attention of people who can do more for them than tweet," he wrote.
Both Butairi, 33, and Hathloul, 29, were arrested in 2018. Butairi's whereabouts are unknown, while Halthloul remains incarcerated.
Hathloul was among a group of more than a dozen Saudi women's right-to-drive activists detained and allegedly tortured by electrocution, flogging, and sexual harassment, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
For years, she advocated for women's right to drive in the kingdom and, in 2013, actively participated in a campaign where she posted videos of herself driving in an attempt to encourage women to do the same.
With an active social media presence, the 29-year-old had been arrested several times for defying the now-lifted ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia.
Most of the arrested activists campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom's male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.

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#Pakistan - معاشی بہتری کا دعویٰ، عمران خان حقائق سے بے خبر یا لاتعلقی؟

 جیو نیوز کے پروگرام ’آپس کی بات‘ میں میزبان منیب فاروق نے کہا کہ وزیراعظم عمران خان نے ترک ٹی وی کو انٹرویو دیتے ہوئے کہا ہے کہ پچھلے چار ماہ میں پاکستان کی معاشی صورتحال بہتر ہوئی ہے سوال یہ ہے کہ وزیراعظم عمران خان زمینی حقائق سے بے خبر ہیں یا اصل صورتحال سے ان کو جان بوجھ کر لاتعلق رکھا جارہا ہے۔مسلم لیگ نون کے رہنما مصدق ملک کا کہنا ہے کہ دنیا میں کوئی بھی ایسا ملک نہیں ہے جہاں چھ مہینے میں تین بجٹ دیئے گئے ہوں ہماری حکومت نے چھبیس یا پچیس بلین قرضے لیے پانچ سال میں جس کا ایورج بنتا ہے پانچ بلین ڈالر سالانہ اس حکومت نے چھ مہینے میں گیارہ بلین کے قرضے لے لیے ہیں یہ ہے ان کی کامیابی ۔تحریک انصاف کے رہنما شوکت بسراکا کہنا تھا کہ عمران خان کا موقف یہ ہے کہ حکومت رہتی ہے رہے نہیں رہتی نہ رہے لیکن کسی چور ڈاکو پر سمجھوتہ نہیں ہوگا کیا کہیں پر یہ الزام لگا ہو کہ کہیں کوئی کمیشن مافیا ہے کہیں لوٹ مار ہو رہی ہے ہماری سمت درست ہے حکومت کی نیت پر شک نہیں کرسکتے ہاں
غلطی کی گنجائش ضرور ہو سکتی۔ پیپلز پارٹی کی رہنما ناز بلوچ کا کہنا تھا کہ کاش یہ حکومت اپنی سمت پر تھوڑی توجہ دے لیتے بجائے اس کے کہ دوسری سیاسی جماعتوں پر کیچڑ اچھالی جائے انہوں نے جو عوام کے خواب چکنا چور کر دیئے وہ سب کے سامنے ہیں اور منی بجٹ کے ٹیکے لگائے جارہے ہیں۔

Pakistan: Violent Surge In Balochistan – Analysis

By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
On January 1, 2019, four Frontier Corps (FC) personnel were killed and another two injured during an exchange of fire with militants who were trying to enter the residential and administration compound at an FC training centre in Loralai District of Balochistan. Four militants were also killed.
Though this was the first incident of violence recorded in the Province in 2019 (data till January 4, 2019), Balochistan recorded a surge in terrorism-related fatalities in 2018, after registering a continuous decline over the preceding five years, 2013 to 2017.According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Balochistan recorded 388 fatalities – 243 civilians, 80 Security Force (SF) personnel, and 65 militants – in 2018, a spike of 13.78 per cent over the 2017 toll of 341 (182 civilians, 82 militants, and 77 SF personnel).
More worryingly, fatalities among civilians, one of the primary and most important indicators of security in any conflict theatre, witnessed a sharp rise, from 183 killed in 2017 to 239 in 2018, an increase of 30 per cent. The two most deadly attacks resulting in maximum civilian fatalities included:
July 25, 2018: 28 persons, including five Policemen and two minors, were killed and 30 injured in a suicide attack near a school area in the Bhosa Mandi area on the Eastern Bypass of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. The attack targeted the convoy of Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Abdul Razzaq Cheema, who remained unhurt in the attack, while Station House Officer (SHO) Bhosa Mandi succumbed to his injuries.
July 13, 2018: A suicide bomber targeting a political rally of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) killed at least 149 people and injured over 186 in Dringarh village, Mastung District. The dead included Siraj Raisani, the BAP candidate from the National Assembly seat Province Balochistan–35 (PB-35, Mastung). Siraj’s elder brother, Nawab Aslam Raisani, was the Chief Minister of Balochistan Province between 2008 and 2013. Most of the other victims were residents of Kanak and Dringarh areas, who had invited Raisani to announce their support for him. The Islamic State (IS) and the ‘Ghazi Force Lal Masjid’ wing of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) separately claimed responsibility for the attack.  
Fatalities among SFs registered an increase from 77 in 2017 to 79 in 2018.
On the other hand, militant fatalities decreased from 83 in 2017 to 63 in 2018, a decline of 24.09 per cent. This was the lowest number of fatalities among militants recorded since 2011, when fatalities in this category stood at 47.
The increase in fatalities among civilians and SFs are clear indicators of a deteriorating security situation. Other parameters of violence reinforce this assessment. For instance, fatalities in suicide attacksincreased almost two-fold, from 109 in 2017 to 208 in 2018, though the number of suicide attacks increased only marginally from eight in 2017 to nine in 2018.
Further, deaths in major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities)increased to 316 in 2018, from 259 in 2017, though there were 33 major incidents in 2018, as against 37 recorded in 2017. Similarly, fatalities in bomb blasts increased from 134 in 2017to 198in 2018, though the Province saw a decrease in the number of bomb blasts, from 38 in 2017 to 29 in 2018.
Overall, there were 691 fatalities in terrorism-linked incidents in Pakistan during 2018, out of which Balochistan alone accounted for 381, i.e. 55.15 per cent of the total. In 2017, Balochistan (343 fatalities) had accounted forjust 27.22 per cent of the much larger total in Pakistan that year (1,260 fatalities).
According to Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), Balochistan remained the most troubled Province,with the highest number of militant attacks (99), highest number of deaths (354) and highest number of injured (570) recorded. Of the total attacks in the country, 61 per cent of the deaths and 59 per cent of the injuries took place in Balochistan, according to PICSS data.
As noted earlier, the North is afflicted by Islamist extremist groups such as Islamic State (IS, also Daesh), TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ); while Baloch nationalist insurgent groups operate in the South. The major Baloch insurgent groups include the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) and United Baloch Army (UBA). The Pakistani state targets the ethnic Baloch insurgent groups with great ferocity, engineering extra judicial killings and ‘disappearances’ in the name of ‘fighting terror’. Given the much higher losses they suffer in terrorist violence in the North, it would be expected that their counter-insurgency (CI) and counter-terrorism (CT) responses would be more focused on that region, but it receives little attention.
Of the 4,257 civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan since 2004 (data till January 4, 2018), at least 1,327 have been attributable to one or another terrorist/insurgent outfit. Of these, 407 civilian killings (237 in the South and 170 in the North) have been claimed by Baloch separatist formations, while Islamist and sectarian extremist formations – primarily Islamic State, LeJ, TTP and Ahrar-ul-Hind (Liberators of India) – claimed responsibility for another 920 civilian killings, 837 in the North (mostly in and around Quetta) and 83 in the South. The remaining 2,930 civilian fatalities – 1,705 in the South and 1,225 in the North – remain ‘unattributed’. A large proportion of the ‘unattributed’ fatalities, particularly in the Southern region, are believed to be the result of enforced ‘disappearances’ carried out by State agencies, or by their proxies, prominently including the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Aman Balochistan (TNAB, Movement for the Restoration of Peace, Balochistan).There were a total of 69 ‘unattributed’ fatalities(59 in North, 10 in South) in 2018 in addition to 82 in 2017 (46 in North, 36 in South).
Continued extra-judicial killings by the Pakistani security establishment has made Baloch insurgent groups more violent towards non-Baloch people in the Province, which has resulted in a series of attacks that have targeted Punjabi and other non-Baloch settlers in Balochistan. These killings have been orchestrated by Baloch groups including the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), among others, who have openly voiced anti-Punjabi sentiments.According to partial data compiled by SATP, a total of 209 settlers have been killed in Balochistan since the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, leader of the Bugti tribe and President of the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), on August 26, 2006, (data till January 4, 2019). Bugti was killed in a military operation in the Chalgri area of the Bhamboor Hills in Dera Bugti District. Out of the 209 ‘outsiders’ killed, at least 178 were Punjabis. Eight Punjabis were killed in 2018, while 23 Punjabi settlers were killed in 2017. There were no such fatalities among Punjabis in 2016. The number of Punjabi fatalities in the Province stood at 22 in 2015; 17 in 2014; 29 in 2013; 26 in 2012; 13 in 2011; 21 in 2010; 18 in 2009; and one in 2008. No such fatalities were recorded in 2007 and 2006.
Other than non-Baloch people, those associated with China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, including Gwadar Port, were also targeted by Baloch nationalists and insurgents, who consider CPEC an instrument of exploitation of local resources and of the marginalization of local populations. Though, Baloch militants had targeted CPEC related projects and their workers on many occasions, previously, in a significant move out of the Province, and in the first attack of its kind, the Baloch separatist groupBLA’s‘Majeed Brigade’ suicide squadcarried out a suicide attack targeting the Chinese Consulate at Block 4 in the Clifton area of Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh, on November 23, 2018. At least six persons, including three civilians, two Policemen, and a private security guard, were killed. Three terrorists involved in the attack were killed by SFs. No Chinese national was hurt. Claiming responsibility for the attack, BLA disclosed that the attackers had been tasked to target the consulate.
Significantly, onAugust 11, 2018, BLA orchestrated the first suicide attack on a bus carrying Chinese engineers going from the Dalbandin Airport to the Saindaik copper and gold mines,both in Chagai District. Six persons – among them three Chinese engineers – had been injured in the attack. The engineers were working on the Saindak Project, a joint venture between Pakistan and China, to extract gold, copper and silver from an area close to the border.Jiand Baloch, a BLA ‘spokesperson’, had then stated, “We targeted this bus which was carrying Chinese engineers. We attacked them because they are extracting gold from our region, we won’t allow it.” In a statement issued on Twitter, the BLA identified the suicide bomber who died in the attack, as Rehan Baloch, the elder son of BLA’s ‘senior commander’ Aslam Baloch.
Insurgents trying to disrupt construction of CPEC projects in Balochistan have killed 66 persons since 2014. Colonel Zafar Iqbal, a spokesperson for the construction company Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), stated on September 8, 2016, “The latest figure has climbed up to 44 deaths and over 100 wounded men on CPEC projects, mainly road construction in Balochistan, which began in 2014.” Since September 7, 2016, according to partial data compiled by SATP, another 22 persons have since been killed in different CPEC-related projects across the Province (till January 4, 2019). While four persons, who were related to CPEC project, were killed in 2017, this number jumped to 11 in 2018, demonstrating increasing Baloch anger against CPEC.
The Baloch separatists’ anger against CPEC in not unjustifiable. The continuous neglect and systematic plan to plunder the natural resources of the mineral rich Province is evident in many instances. On December 10, 2018, for instance, the CPEC Cell, in its briefing to the Balochistan Cabinet, revealed that Balochistan’s share in the USD 62 Billion CPEC project was a miniscule nine percent, about USD 5.6 Billion. It was also disclosed that, out of this committed sum, less than USD one Billion had been spent in over five years, since May 22, 2013, when CPEC was launched. The stunned Cabinet members reportedly described CPEC spending in Balochistan thus far, as “a joke”.Expressing concern over the dismal share of the Province in development projects under CPEC, on December 9, 2018, the Balochistan Government disclosed that only two projects — the Gwadar Port and Hubco Coal Power Plant — had been approved for the Province till that point, since CPEC’s launch on May 22, 2013. The Government, moreover, claimed that even these two projects had no direct benefits for the people of Balochistan.
Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar stated, on December 10, 2018, “the situation of Balochistan is deplorable” despite the Province having huge mineral resources. The CJP emphasised that the people of Balochistan complained that they were being neglected by Islamabad and they did not even have basic rights.
Though the levelof violence in the Province had been relativelylow for some years, a smouldering discontent continues to feed the fires of revolt.

#Pakistan becomes third worst country for international travel

We all know travelling on a Pakistani passport is never easy. But things are worse than we’d like to admit.
The country has become the third worst country for international travel. The Pakistani passport ranked 102 out of 104 countries in the 2019 Henley Passport Index. Falling in the list of bottom five countries to visit globally, a Pakistani passport can get you visa-free access to only 33 countries.
Ironically, Pakistan was included in Forbes’s recently-released list of ’10 coolest places to go to in 2019.’
On the contrary, the country’s neighbour, India ranked 79 with access to 28 more countries than Pakistan.
The Henley index is the original ranking of all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa. The ranking is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association, which maintains the world’s largest database of travel information.
Meanwhile, Japan has entered the New Year holding first place on the index with citizens enjoying visa-free/visa-on-arrival access to 190 countries.
Germany and France remain in third place with a visa-free score of 188.
The Pakistani passport has been sliding down consistently since 2006 when it ranked at 79. In the last quarter, it stood at 102. Notably, the green passport’s rankings had seen a rise in 2013, having jumped up from 100th place in 2012 to 91st in 2013. However, it continued to plunge since then.
Joining Pakistan at the bottom of the 2019 ranking are Iraq and Afghanistan with access to just 30 visa-free destinations each. China and the UAE have, meanwhile, have risen steadily over the past few years.

Pakistan TV Channels Told Not To Air "Indecent" Or "Intimate Scenes"

Pakistan media regulator says some TV dramas "depict hackneyed image of women and have confined themselves to feminist issues only... ignoring children, teenagers and men".
Pakistani television channels might no longer show "intimate moments between couples" or "bed scenes", the conservative country's media regulator has announced. It complained of too much feminist content and warned that such "bold themes" offend viewers. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) issued its warning on Tuesday, calling on channels to respect the country's existing media guidelines and refrain from airing content that does not depict a "picture of true Pakistani society".
"The prevalent rampant trend of airing quite bold themes in Pakistani drama industry has resulted in massive public complaints," PEMRA said.
"Indecent scenes/dialogues/extramarital relations, violence, inappropriate dressing, rape scenes, caressing, bed scenes, use of drugs and alcohol, intimate moments between couples are being glamourized in utter disregard to Pakistani culture and values," it added.
Pakistani dramas and soap operas, many of which seek to challenge the deeply patriarchal country's conservative taboos, are immensely popular, according to data from PEMRA and Gallup Pakistan.
Many revolve around plot lines portraying social issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, misogyny and women. Activists have previously hailed some as potentially powerful vehicles for grassroots change.
Last year, a soap opera dramatising the life of social media star Qandeel Baloch -- infamous for her provocative selfies, until her shocking murder by her brother in 2016 -- topped the charts.
Other shows highlighting the issues of so-called "honour" killings and forced marriages were also hits, despite being targeted by a wave of vitriol on social media, with people accusing the channels of spreading vulgarity and destroying social values.
In its statement, PEMRA said such dramas "depict hackneyed image of women and have confined themselves to feminist issues only... ignoring children, teenagers and men".

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#Australia considers visa for #Saudi teen #Rahaf al-Qunun after #UN grants her refugee status

By Michael Koziol

Australia is considering granting a visa to Saudi teenager Rahaf al-Qunun after a United Nations agency found the 18-year-old detained at Bangkok airport is a genuine refugee.
Late on Wednesday the Department of Home Affairs confirmed the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had referred Ms al-Qunun for potential resettlement in Australia.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun posted on social media from a hotel room at Bangkok airport.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun posted on social media from a hotel room at Bangkok airport.CREDIT:AP
"The Department of Home Affairs will consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals," it said in a statement.
"The government will be making no further comment on this matter."
Ms al-Qunun's case has captivated the world after she was detained by Saudi authorities at Bangkok airport, where she was planning to travel to Australia to seek asylum.
She had barricaded herself in her hotel room at the airport after claiming a Saudi official confiscated her passport and planned to forcibly return her to her departure point of Kuwait and onwards to her family in Saudi Arabia, whom she feared would kill her.
The Thai government allowed her to enter the country temporarily under the protection of the UNHCR while her case was being assessed.
Throughout the ordeal, Ms al-Qunun pleaded for assistance on social media and has amassed more than 100,000 Twitter followers.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the first Australian MP to call for Australia to provide refuge to Ms al-Qunun, said it was "time to bring this courageous young woman to Australia to start her life as a free woman".
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told reporters on Wednesday - before the referral was confirmed - that Australia would consider any referrals from the UN but Ms al-Qunun would not receive any "special treatment".
"Australia is a signatory to the convention and to the protocols, as you know, and we will work with the UN, but there is no special treatment in this case," Mr Dutton said.
"The case will be assessed by the United Nations and ... it doesn't therefore make it different to any other case of that nature."
The decision was a matter for Immigration Minister David Coleman, Mr Dutton said. Comment has been sought from Mr Coleman.
In 2017, a young Saudi woman Dina Ali Lasloom was forcibly returned to her homeland after she was detained at Manila airport in the Philippines, and has since reportedly disappeared.

UNHCR finds Australia-bound Saudi teen stuck in Thailand to be refugee as Foreign Minister prepares to arrive in the country

The United Nations refugee agency has assessed the case of a Saudi teenager trying to get to Australia and found she is a genuine refugee.
Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun will be subject to Australian checks before she is granted a humanitarian visa, including character and security assessments.
In a statement, the Department of Home Affairs says it will consider the referral from the UN in the usual way.
The 18-year-old claims she was abducted and had her passport confiscated by Saudi Arabian diplomatic staff after she arrived at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport on Sunday.
She was travelling to Australia on a tourist visa to seek asylum and barricaded herself in a Thai hotel room to avoid being sent home.
Before the referral, Australia signalled it would seriously consider allowing Ms Alqunun to settle in Australia after urging the UNHCR to process her case quickly.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said there would be no "special treatment" in Ms Alqunun's case.
"Nobody wants to see a young girl in distress and she has obviously now found a safe haven in Thailand," Mr Dutton told reporters in Brisbane today.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne will be in Thailand on Thursday as part of a pre-planned visit.
During her time in the country she will lobby for the release of a Melbourne-based refugee soccer player being held in the country.
The teenager is now in the care of the UNHCR, who will decide if the visit will be allowed.
She has renounced Islam and wrote of being in "real danger" if forced to return to her family under pressure from Saudi authorities and has claimed she could be killed.
Saudi Arabia has strict social rules, including a requirement women have permission from a male "guardian" to travel.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison giving his support for the woman's claim if she was found to be a refugee.
“Should Ms Mohammed Alqunun be found to have valid protection claims and entitled to asylum, Labor would be supportive of any government moves to offer her humanitarian settlement," Mr Shorten wrote.
Amnesty International has praised the UN refugee ruling. 
In a statement the human right's group said Alqunun's case had inspired millions and should remind people of the bravery and sacrifices of people who flee their native lands for safety.
It praised Thailand for its actions in Alqunun's case, but said the country had not treated other asylum-seekers in the same responsible manner.

#UN refers Saudi teen #Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun for asylum in #Australia

The Saudi teenager fled her family and reached a hotel at Bangkok airport from where she sent out appeals for help via social media. The UN has taken up her case and asked Australia to welcome her.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun said she fears for her safety should she be returned to what she describes as an abusive family in Saudi Arabia. She managed to reach Thailand's main airport at the weekend, where she put out appeals to find a safe refuge.
On Wednesday, the Australian government said it was considering granting the 18-year-old refugee resettlement following a referral from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
"The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement," Australia's Department of Homeland Security said in an email.
"If she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa," Health Minister Greg Hunt told public broadcaster ABC.
A social media approach to asylum
Australia has strict immigration policies, but Alqunun's case has received sympathetic attention.
While Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton cautioned: "There is no special treatment in this case," he also said: "Nobody wants to see a young girl in distress and she has obviously now found a safe haven in Thailand."

The UN had placed Alqunun under its protection in Thailand after she had escaped her family in Kuwait by boarding a flight, heading for Australia with a change of plane in Thailand.
She was detained by authorities in Bangkok as Saudi Arabia revoked her passport, but refused to board a flight back to Kuwait. She barricaded herself inside a hotel room at the airport and started to send out messages via Twitter. Within days she had 50,000 followers and by Wednesday, the number had reached 107,000.
Hard times in Saudi Arabia
Alqunun said her abusive family in Saudi Arabia was trying to force her into marriage and had kept her in her room for six months after she had cut her hair. She also told Human Rights Watch that she had given up the Islamic faith.
She refused to meet with her father and brother who arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday.
Thai immigration police chief Major General Surachate Hakparn said UN officials had expected her case would be concluded within days.
Focus on human rights in Saudi Arabia has intensified following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country's embassy in Istanbul last year.
Women in Saudi Arabia have few rights and are restricted as to where they can travel without the permission of a male guardian.