Things grew even harder, she said, when her father left the city and put her under the guardianship of her older brother. She described her life as one of strict rules and abuse at the hands of her family. After she cut her hair in a way her family did not approve, her brother locked her in a room for six months, she said. A few months ago, when she removed her niqab, he beat her and locked her up again, she said.
After days of silence, the first comments about the case have emerged from Saudi Arabia. In a statement, the head of the Saudi government-funded National Society for Human Rights accused countries of inciting “Saudi female delinquents” to rebel against their family values and seek asylum. He called the actions political, not humanitarian.
The case is sure to further fray relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia, which have been strained since last summer, when Canada’s foreign affairs ministry posted two Twitter messages calling for the release of imprisoned rights activists in Saudi Arabia. In response, the kingdom expelled the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh, recalled the Saudi ambassador to Ottawa, froze all new trade and investment deals, and ordered thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada to transfer elsewhere.
The Canadian government, however, did not back down.
Canada accepts tens of thousands of refugees a year, but few have Ms. Alqunun’s stardom or powerful, if newly formed, network. In just over one week, she has garnered 176,000 Twitter followers, forged relationships with human rights activists and been on the front pages of newspapers around the world.
No fewer than three GoFundMe campaigns have been launched in her name, raising more than $12,900 (17,200 Canadian dollars) already.