“Terrifying,” “angry” and “overwhelming” is how Bethany Alhaidari described the prospect of sending her eight-year-old back to Saudi Arabia after the mother-daughter duo fled the kingdom four years ago.
The 36-year-old American activist from Washington state previously made headlines in 2019 when she fled the kingdom with her daughter Zaina after a contentious divorce, losing a grueling custody battle and being banned from traveling for violating visitation rights her ex-husband.
Left with few options under the kingdom’s custody laws, Alhaidari said she hatched a plan that she saw as her only way to get out with Zaina: She wanted to pretend to “get back together” with her allegedly abusive ex-husband. , until he felt comfortable enough to allow her to travel with her child. According to Alhaidari, the plan worked and she was able to leave the kingdom with her daughter in December 2019 under the pretext of visiting her parents in Washington state – where she immediately filed a request for emergency jurisdiction.
But their risky escape was far from the end of the nightmare. Another custody battle for Zaina is currently taking place on U.S. soil — and it’s culminating in a hearing on October 24 that could end in a court ruling that the child must be sent back to Saudi Arabia, as first reported by The guard.
“It’s so outrageous to me. And it’s so ridiculous that it can actually come to this, and I don’t think people realize over the years the mental and similar emotional toll that this has taken,” Alhaidari told The Daily Beast in one interview week. “This has been my reality for a few years now…it’s almost comical.”
The activist, who initially moved to Saudi Arabia in 2012 to pursue academic research before meeting her ex-husband there, said she knew the divorce and subsequent custody battle in the kingdom would be an uphill battle once her Marriage failed. He said: “I didn’t think it would be like this The It’s bad because there was so much evidence of my ex-husband’s problems.”
In U.S. court filings reviewed by The Daily Beast, Alhaidari had alleged that her ex-husband, a Saudi national, “showed signs of emotional instability, emotional abuse, and substance abuse” during her pregnancy with Zaina, which ultimately led to ” Shooting sprees” escalated and included “shouting insults, breaking objects and threatening to kill Bethany in front of her daughter.” (Bethany said she gave video footage that captured some of these “shooting sprees” to a Saudi judge during of her custody case, which she said was dismissed entirely.)
Bethany Alhaidari and her daughter Zaina pose for a photo while attending a concert.
“I remember being very upset with the judge at the end of the case because I didn’t have legal representation at the beginning. So it was just me. And I just remember going through this terrible, terribly unfair situation [saga] …egregiously discriminatory based on gender,” she told The Daily Beast. “The court case in Saudi Arabia had no meaning or purpose. They didn’t even follow their own legal procedures. So I had filed an appeal in Saudi Arabia, but it failed completely and I was forced to settle.”
For Alhaidari, the court hearing on October 24th is not just about the risk of having to separate from her daughter. Last month, Human Rights Watch filed an amicus brief in the case warning of a possible threat to the activist if she had to accompany Zaina to Saudi Arabia if the court rules against her.
“Discrimination related to child custody remains deeply rooted in Saudi Arabia. As a result, “Bethany will likely face discriminatory judgments and significant risk of criminal prosecution for her peaceful advocacy and allegations of blasphemy, apostasy and “moral” crimes,” the briefing said, referring to Alhaidari’s advocacy work and allegations her ex-husband made against her during her legal battles in the kingdom. “This leaves Bethany vulnerable to abuse in custody, an unfair trial, a long prison sentence and the risk of corporal punishment and the death penalty, all of which will impact on her child.”
Alhaidari has long been critical of the Saudi regime and its treatment of women in the kingdom and continues her involvement in the United States as a senior fellow at the Human Rights Foundation and other advocacy groups. It was “a really difficult time” doing this kind of work in the kingdom, she said. “I watched as my friends and colleagues were imprisoned, tortured and imprisoned while I was conducting human rights research.”
Ahead of next month’s court hearing, Alhaidari said she was trying to protect her daughter from the emotional and mental toll of the custody battle, adding that friends of Zaina’s from school had spoken about the case in front of the 8-year-old .
“It’s hard for her because she’s old enough to understand things, right? She has tried several times to express that she does not want to go to Saudi Arabia and has refused to speak to her father for several months. And it’s really hard. It’s really hard for them,” she said. “I’ve been a single parent, so to speak, since she was born. You know, she and I lived alone since she was two years old after we separated.”
“She has the freedom to be whatever she wants to be right now,” Alhaidari added. “And that’s really important to me.”
Source : www.thedailybeast.com