Can Hundreds of Thousands of Tweets Help Save a Saudi Teen’s Life? #WATWB

Barricaded in an airport hotel room in Bangkok on January 5th, her passport seized by Saudi authorities, 18-year-old Saudi teen Rahaf al-Qunun desperately wrote her first-ever tweet in Arabic, “I’m the girl who ran away to Thailand. I’m now in real danger because the Saudi embassy is trying to force me to return. I’m afraid. My family will kill me.”

Upon reading this, my first thought was, “Almost any 18 year old would say my family would kill me if I broke their rules.” But that was before I found out Rahaf’s fear was justified, because a Saudi woman guilty of apostasy (denouncing her religion) faces certain death by stoning.

Her plea for help was translated into English by Egyptian-American journalist and activist Mona Eltahawy, who describes herself as “a secular, radical feminist Muslim.” Eloquent red-headed Mona fights for the autonomy, security, and dignity of Muslim women through her news articles and activist actions.

An author activist myself, I admire all those who stand up and speak out for just causes. Mona, a fervent, fiery writer and speaker, particularly inspires me. She protests the injustices perpetuated against those Muslims forced to experience oppression, violence, and living in fear. You can check out her powerful Twitter feed.

Mona’s Twitter hashtag #SaveRahaf reached hundreds of thousands of this popular activist’s followers. These tweets were instrumental in attracting the attention of Human Rights Watch and eventually Phil Robertson, its Bangkok-based Asia deputy director. On the evening of January 5th, he sent this out:

“18 year old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun is being held at #Bangkok airport, her passport confiscated by #SaudiArabia which prevented her from continuing to #Australia. She wants to seek asylum, fears she will be killed if forced back to #Riyadh. Needs access to #UNHCR!”

Twitter, Phil Robertson

What happens after this is intense and amazing, and proves once again that the pen can be mightier than the sword (especially on social media, and more especially on Twitter) .

To read the article in its entirety, click here.  To find out what happened to Rahaf afterward, check out her Twitter feed.

Two resources on Twitter contacts for refugees:

  1. Popular hashtags for refugees on Twitter and Instagram
  2. How to contact the USA for UNHCR verified Twitter account @UNRefugeeAgency

An inspiring article and video about the 2018 World Report about Human Rights successes and failures, and hopes for the future:

World Report 2018: Fighting for Rights Succeeds: Principled Politicians and Popular Protest Weaken Authoritarian Populist Agenda


We Are The World Blogfest - In Darkness, Be Light

At the end of each month, we bloggers are given the opportunity to post good news stories. Why do we do it? To offer an antidote to the tidal wave of bad news in the news feeds nowadays. I sincerely hope this post lifts your spirits as much as reading about these inspirational folks lifted mine.

My dedicated and talented co-hosts for this month are: Inderpreet Uppal, Sylvia Stein, Shilpa Garg, Simon Falk, Damyanti Biswas. Please check out their blog posts and say hello.


Lizbeth Hartz is the author of the true crime, true love memoir Angel Hero, Murder in Hawaii, A True Story. You can buy it on Amazon – Kindle Unlimited subscribers read free! Sign up to read the 1st chapter free.

12 Comments

  1. Shilpa Garg on January 25, 2019 at 2:53 pm

    Rahaf’s asylum in Canada speaks a lot about the power of social media and that the pen is mightier than the sword. More power to Mona Eltahawy and Phil Robertson for their timely intervention and support. When I read this news first, my heart whooped with joy. Thanks for sharing this positive and inspiring story, Lizbeth!

    • Lizbeth Hartz on January 25, 2019 at 8:13 pm

      Dear Shilpa,
      Thank you for reading and commenting and liking this story. You’re so welcome! And I just read your post on that wonderful library that’s helping the children in India, and left a comment on your site at https://shilpaagarg.com/2019/01/library-books-book-thief.html)
      Aloha noe, Lizbeth

  2. Anouradha Bakshi on January 26, 2019 at 3:30 am

    The pen is definitely mightier than the sword. Thank you for sharing this story. More power to people like Mona and Phil

    • Lizbeth Hartz on January 29, 2019 at 5:46 am

      Yes, I agree, Anouradha. You’re welcome and I’m glad the story touched you like it touched me.

  3. susan scott on January 26, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Thanks for highlighting this story Lizbeth – I saw some of it on TV – but wasn’t aware of the identity of those who initiated her safe asylum! The pen is indeed mightier than the sword!

    • Lizbeth Hartz on January 29, 2019 at 6:48 am

      You’re welcome, Susan. I found this young woman’s story to be a flash of light in the dark night of human rights violations. Yes, I too believe it to be so.

  4. Damyanti on January 27, 2019 at 7:59 am

    I followed this story on twitter and was so heartened to see social media at its best! Thankyou for sharing it for WATWB!

    • Lizbeth Hartz on January 29, 2019 at 6:51 am

      Thanks for commenting, Damyanti, and you’re very welcome. I, too, am heartened to see this wonderful example of social media pulling together to save the life of a young woman.

  5. Belinda Witzenhausen on January 28, 2019 at 12:03 am

    I am very familiar with Rahaf’s story and have had friends flee their countries for the same reason. Social media for all of it’s negative labels can also be used for good! Thanks so much for sharing and being a part of#WATWB.

    • Lizbeth Hartz on January 29, 2019 at 6:52 am

      I couldn’t agree with you more, Belinda. How heartening to see so many folks who want to help. You’re welcome and I’m proud to be a member of our tribe!

  6. Kate on January 28, 2019 at 9:29 am

    I saw the young woman’s story on tv.Australia was tardy inaccepting her application for Asylum but it was eo great that Canada offered her a new life. She is indeed very brave. Thanks for the story.

    • Lizbeth Hartz on January 29, 2019 at 6:56 am

      You’re welcome, Kate. Like you, I’m glad she was able to get into Canada, and admire her resourcefulness and courage.

Leave a Comment