The night they fled, Reem and Rawan didn’t dare sleep.
It was September 6, 2018. The two Saudi sisters were on a family vacation in Colombo, Sri Lanka. For weeks, they had helped their mother organize the trip, feigning excitement at the possibility of two weeks away from Riyadh, but knowing that if all went to plan, they’d never go back.
Failure was not an option. Every step of their escape from Saudi Arabia carried the threat of severe punishment or death.
“We knew the first time, if it’s not perfect, it will be the last time,” Reem says.
CNN has changed the sisters’ names and is not showing their faces, at their request for their safety.
The sisters say years of strict Islamic teaching and physical abuse at home had convinced them that they had no future in a society that places women under the enforced guardianship of men, and limits their aspirations.
“It’s slavery, because whatever the woman will do it’s the business of the male,” Rawan says.
That’s why they say they renounced Islam.
And that’s why aged 18 and 20, they stole back their own passports, hid their abayas under the bedcovers, snuck out of their holiday home and boarded a flight from Colombo to Melbourne, via Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong stopover was supposed to take less than two hours.
Two hours has turned into five months.