Two sisters from Saudi Arabia who were mysteriously found dead in their apartment in Australia could have been scared of persecution because of their sexuality.
The decomposing remains of the two women, Asra Abdullah Alsehli, 24, and Amaal Abdullah Alsehli, 23, were discovered in their beds in the morning of 7 June in the Sydney suburb of Burwood.
Police were called to carry out a welfare check as the sisters owed their landlord thousands in rent.
Their bodies had remained undiscovered for over a month and authorities were unable to ascertain a cause of death, nor find any signs of forced entry into their apartment.
New South Wales Police Force set up an investigation into their deaths named Strike Force Woolbird.
According to The Guardian, the Alsehli sisters arrived in Australia in 2017 having fled Saudi Arabia, and sources have said that police are investigating whether one or both of them was LGBTQ+ and had feared persecution.
A woman who asked to remain anonymous told the publication that she had met the sisters at a queer event earlier this year and that she had gone straight to police when she saw their photos on the news.
She claims police confirmed “that they knew one of the sisters was queer, but they weren’t sure about the other”.
At the event, she recalled that the sisters seemed nervous, saying: “I noticed them keeping to themselves in a corner, looking shy and so I went over and started talking to them.
“They mentioned that they were from Saudi Arabia, and we talked about what it is like to be queer there.
“They said women live in fear of their safety and that they were grateful to be living in Australia, where they could more freely express themselves.”
The source reported asking the two women “about their lives in Saudi Arabia and whether they had returned home recently to visit family”, but said that they were reluctant to go into detail.
The sisters had claimed asylum in Australia, but it is not clear on what grounds.
Police have said that they have been in touch with the sisters’ family, but Sky News reports that they have not claimed the bodies, and have made no funeral arrangements.
Australian newspaper The Daily Telegraph has quoted a “senior police source”, who reportedly believes that the women died by suicide.
This has not been confirmed by New South Wales Police Force, who have said that the investigation is ongoing.
Detective inspector Claudia Allcroft issued a fresh call for information last week.
“Detectives are interested in speaking with anyone who may have seen or who may have information about the women’s movements in the days and weeks prior to their deaths – which we believe occurred in early May,” she said.
“Extensive inquiries have been made by Strike Force Woolbird detectives; however, we have been unable to determine the exact circumstances surrounding Asra and Amaal’s death.
“The Burwood community is a small and close community, and we hope that someone may be able to assist our investigators – either through sightings, or those who knew the sisters and may have some information on their movements prior to their death.”
Anyone who may have information that could assist detectives is urged to contact Burwood Police Station on (02) 9745 8499 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
LGBTQ+ folk in Saudi Arabia are severely repressed and criminalised, with punishments for homosexuality including chemical castrations, public whippings, torture, up to life in prison and the death penalty.