22 June 2007
Sharia Court ruling leaves woman without home, children; "clearly another tactic to silence critics of the courts system," says BCHR
(BCHR/IFEX) - The following is a statement from BCHR, an interim member of IFEX:
A Sharia Court ruling on 20 June 2007 left a young divorcee without her children and their shared home after a court battle for custody and alimony that went on for more than a year.
Suad Fathalla, 29, who has been the victim of a harassment campaign since she spoke on Al Hurra television about her experience in Sharia courts, has lost custody of her three young children and rights to the apartment which they currently share.
The BCHR, along with the Women's Petition Committee, intend to support Ms Fathalla in challenging the ruling.
Ms Fathalla, the Emirati former wife of a Bahraini Interior Ministry employee, was harassed and followed while embroiled in a court case for custody of her children. Her former husband, who has no relatives in Bahrain, had been trying to pressure her into giving up the apartment she shared with her children and stopped providing alimony following a judge's ruling.
Ten years after being married at the age of 16, Ms Fathalla ended her marriage, allegedly because her former husband was a violent and abusive drunk who used to beat her. She temporarily lost custody of her children after her former husband filed a court case against her accusing her of being a sex worker. Even though Ms Fathalla was acquitted of the charges, the Sharia Court granted custody of the children to their father. In September 2006, Ms Fathalla's husband, who is a policeman, threatened her at gunpoint. She has also reportedly been physically assaulted by members of her former husband's family.
While speaking on Al Hurra television Ms Fathalla gave details of her case - she told how her eldest son chose not to live with his father. She also spoke about how her son was told by an Interior Ministry employee that if he left his father he would be sent to a juvenile detention centre. She criticised the Sharia Court and the politicised judges for their handling of the case, as well as the Interior Ministry for failing to take any disciplinary action against their employee (her former husband) for his illegal actions.
Since speaking out she has received death threats and anonymous phone calls.
"Of course we will support Suad in appealing against this inhumane ruling," BCHR Vice President Nabeel Rajab said.
The BCHR, along with the Women's Petition Committee took up Ms Fathalla's case in 2006.
"This is clearly another tactic to silence critics of the Sharia courts system and the lack of a family status law.
"This is more than a verdict - it is a punishment for a woman who dared to speak out against a corrupt and powerful institution," Rajab said.
The BCHR and the Women's Petition Committee condemn the court ruling and the harrassment of Ms Fathalla, who has been vilified for exercising her right to freedom of speech.
The BCHR and the Women's Petition Committee:
- call for the ruling to be overturned in the interests of Ms Fathalla's children, who have said in the past that they wish to live with their mother, and to ensure that they remain in her custody;
- call on the government to stop using the Public Prosecution and Sharia Courts as pressure tools to silence victims and activists;
- call for the Kingdom of Bahrain to work towards developing an independent and honest judiciary that can be trusted to protect victims;
- call on the Interior Ministry to take responsibility for dealing with their employee, Ms Fathalla's former husband, who has so far acted with impunity because of his position;
- ask all international and local non-governmental and human rights organisations to stand with Suad, and with us, in our demand for a written personal status law.