FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 17, 2009
Contact: Lakshmi Anantnarayan, 212-586-0906, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mansour with his daughter Nuha
Saudi Arabia—In 2003 Fatima Bent Suleiman and Mansour El Timani were happily married. The couple had two children, a daughter Nuha born in May 2004, and a son, Suleiman born in November 2005. In just over a year after the marriage, following the passing away of Fatima’s father, her half-brothers filed a petition in the High Court of Jof asking the judge to divorce Fatima from Mansour on the grounds that he was of “inferior background.” Fatima believes her inheritance from her father is one of the reasons they have pursued this course.
Fatima and Mansour were forced to divorce against their will, first by the High Court and then their appeal was rejected by the Cassation Court, the highest court in Saudi Arabia. When Fatima refused to separate from Mansour, she was imprisoned with her two children for nine months till April 2007. Upon being released from prison, Fatima has lived in a state-run orphanage with her son and Mansour currently looks after their daughter. The Saudi government has blacklisted Mansour for refusing to sign the divorce papers, which effectively bars him from working, owning property, or even getting a driver’s license. He has survived financially through the help of friends and family. Fatima and Suleiman have not seen Mansour and Nuha in over two and a half years.
International human rights organization Equality Now was recently informed that the psychological health of five-year-old Nuha is steadily deteriorating. Extremely traumatized by the absence of her mother and the constant threat of imprisonment of her father, Nuha does not let her father out of her sight and fears all strangers. Though Nuha is of school-going age she cannot be admitted to school because Mansour does not have her birth certificate and other documents that are required for admittance. As possible backlash following international pressure for the couple’s reunification, officials at the orphanage have tried to take Fatima’s laptop computer and cell phone but she has so far resisted these attempts. She has also been put under constant surveillance by two female guards, who monitor her every move.
Since the Saudi King is the only authority with the power to overturn the decision of the Cassation Court, Equality Now and several other organizations have been calling on the King to annul the divorce of Fatima and Mansour. These efforts unfortunately have not borne any results, despite assertions by the Saudi government that women in Saudi Arabia are free to make their own marriage choices. Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of Equality Now states, “The verdict by the Saudi Arabian court was blatantly discriminatory and violates several fundamental rights of all the victims involved. Not only is the married couple not allowed to live together as consenting adults, they have been denied their parental rights, economic self-sufficiency and freedom of mobility among many other human rights violations. Their children are suffering deep emotional trauma and now their education and entire future are at stake. The longer the Saudi authorities remain silent in this case, the more egregious the situation becomes. We will keep up the pressure until Fatima and Mansour are reunited and see justice done to them.”