- Two Saudi sisters say Apple and Google must remove the widely-condemned government app Absher, after they had to steal their father’s phone in order to leave the country.
- Wafa and Maha al-Subaie, who are 25 and 28, fled to Georgia, eastern Europe, on April 16.
- They said they forged their father’s permission for them to travel on Absher, a Saudi government app.
- “It gives men control over women,” Wafa told Reuters. “They [Apple and Google] have to remove it.”
- INSIDER first reported how Absher lets male guardians control where women go abroad, and lets them get SMS alerts when women use their passports at the border.
- On March 2, Google said it would not remove the app. Apple pledged to investigate but has taken no action after more than two months.
- The sisters remain in Georgia – popular with Saudi escapees as it does not require an entry visa – and are awaiting a decision on their request for asylum.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
Two runaway Saudi sisters have called on Apple and Google must remove the government app Absher, after they had to steal their father’s phone and use the app to flee to Georgia.
Wafa, 25, and Maha, 28, al-Subaie fled Saudi Arabia for Tbilisi, Georgia, via Turkey, on April 16. They said that at home they were “threatened and abused daily by our family, father, mother, and brothers.”
To escape, the pair logged into their father’s account with Absher, an online service provided by the Saudi Ministry of the Interior.
Under Saudi Arabia’s legal system, every woman must have permission from a designated male, known as her “guardian”, to travel.
After using the phone to give themselves permission to go Istanbul, Turkey, the pair crossed the border into Georgia to seek asylum.
Absher “gives men control over women,” Wafa told Reuters. “They [Apple and Google] have to remove it.”
“If [they] remove this application, maybe the government will do something.”
We were forced to flee our homes & leave everything behind. It's not a choice. Saudi laws don't protect women or children from domestic violence. We risk our lives everyday by staying in Georgia where our entire tribe can find us. We don't want to keep looking over our shoulders. pic.twitter.com/c0uq2yp4dm
— Maha & Wafa al-Subaie ⭐️ مها ووفاء السبيعي (@GeorgiaSisters2) April 22, 2019
INSIDER in February reported extensively on how Saudi women were struggling to get around Absher to escape abuse. INSIDER later reported that Google would not be removing it, despite calls from US members of Congress, and rights organisations.
Amongst the critics were US Senators Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio, Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Jackie Speier, and Human Rights Watch.
Absher allows guardians to grant and rescind permission for women to travel abroad, and lets them set up SMS alerts for when women use their passports at the border.
The al-Subaei sisters set up a Twitter account called Georgia Sisters to document their attempts to claim asylum.
They wrote that they fled because “Saudi laws don’t protect women or children from domestic violence.”
On April 17 they tweeted: “We are in danger. We need your support to deliver our voice. We want protection. We want a country to welcomes us and protects our rights.”
As of Thursday they are still awaiting a ruling on their application to Georgia’s government for asylum.
Victims of physical and sexual abuse in Saudi Arabia can call a government hotline which evaluates their case and decided whether the victim can be sent to “Dar Alhemaya,” a shelter for abused women.
But the sisters’ two brothers work for the security sector, they told Radio France International, which led them to believe there was no hope of getting help from the government.
Joining the wave of criticism aimed at Apple and Google this week was UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.
She told Reuters on Wednesday she had asked Apple and Google “tough questions” in April about technology used to restrict women’s movement like Absher in Saudi Arabia.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised to change the guardianship system in Saudi Arabia during an interview with US magazine The Atlantic in April 2018, but set no timeline.
Speaking to Jeffrey Goldberg he said: “We want to move on it [guardianship] and figure out a way to treat this that doesn’t harm families and doesn’t harm the culture.”
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