By Pete O’Cain / The Wenatchee World
WENATCHEE – After divorce proceedings that began on the other side of the world more than three years ago, a native Kashmiri American has moved one step closer to custody of her daughter after a local court ruled that her basic human rights were revoked by a foreign one Court were violated.
A Chelan County judge has ruled that the Saudi Arabian courts failed to provide due process to a Bethany AlHaidari in a custody battle with her ex-husband. The custody of the child is determined on site.
Bethany AlHaidari fled Saudi Arabia with her daughter Zaina in December 2019 after a two-year divorce and custody battle with ex-husband Ghassan AlHaidari to Chelan County, where she has a family. Bethany AlHaidari, through her attorney Scott Volyn, in January 2020 urged the Chelan County Supreme Court to allow custody determination in Chelan County, deviating from the Saudi International Custody Dispute Protocol as Saudi laws violate human rights.
Chelan County Supreme Court judge Kristin Ferrera ruled in favor of Bethany AlHaidari on February 9th. A parenting plan will be established in the Supreme Court unless Ghassan AlHaidari files a successful appeal.
“A legal system established not only not to protect but to deny basic human rights, such as the right to due process and the right of one parent to have a child based solely on that parent’s sex. National origin and / or religion is not a legal system whose custody laws this state can comply with, ”Ferrera wrote in her decision.
In an interview, Bethany AlHaidari, 33, said: “Reading the court’s opinion and the factual presentation of events after such a long time of not being heard properly was a kind of moment of inhalation of justice.”
She added, “It just feels like justice to me after a long period of injustice.”
Bethany AlHaidari commutes between Wenatchee and Washington, DC, works as a human rights advisor, runs a charity called saudijustice.org, and is doing a PhD. in international law.
To say it has been a long way would be an understatement.
In 2011, Bethany Vierra moved to Saudi Arabia to teach. She met Ghassan AlHaidari the following year. They married in 2013 and in 2014 she gave birth to their daughter Zaina.
Their marriage broke up in September 2017 and a Saudi court granted them a divorce in January 2019, which Ferrera’s decision said sparked a bitter custody battle.
In her decision, Ferrera included a description of the events detailed in the Supreme Court documents filed by Bethany and Ghassan after the filing of the current case that led to their decision.
A Saudi judge declined to order Ghassan AlHaidari to extend Bethany AlHaidari’s legal residence in the country. That was soon to expire, and as of February 2019, she no longer had legal status in the country, which meant she could not take legal action or access her bank account if there was any risk of deportation or detention.
Her residence was only restored after the New York Times published a story raising awareness of her situation.
In April 2019, Ghassan AlHaidari tried to overturn her custody rights by claiming she worked full-time, taking her daughter to school instead of staying at her home, and claiming Bethany AlHaidari had a learning disability. He tried to give custody to his mother, with whom he lived.
His legal team tried to show a judge a video of his ex-wife practicing yoga while exposed in the diplomatic quarters of Riyadh city. The judge refused, but the video was shared on social media and she was being investigated on criminal charges.
Ghassan also accused her of adultery and insulting Islam and Saudi Arabia, according to Ferrera’s decision. Both are crimes that are punishable by death in the Middle Eastern country.
Custody was granted to Ghassan AlHaidari’s mother, despite the testimony of his sister who claimed her mother was an unsuitable parent, but the matter was barely closed.
Bethany AlHaidari asked the media, the US government and human rights organizations for further help. Her ex-husband filed a complaint with the Saudi government claiming she refused the visit. The government issued an arrest warrant and a 10-year travel ban prohibiting her from leaving the country.
The custody case went to a civil court to force an agreement; The head of the court also did not grant custody to anyone and effectively gave the child Ghassan AlHaidari rights, but Bethany AlHaidari did not. She was not allowed to travel with Zaina, identify herself, take her to hospital, or enroll her in school.
Bethany AlHaidari agreed to reconcile with Ghassan AlHaidari in order to convince him to grant her custody. She forfeited her financial rights to child benefit in order to get the right to travel.
The final agreement at the end of 2019 granted both parents visiting rights and equal custody. In December 2019, Ghassan AlHaidari gave her permission to travel to the United States with Zaina to visit a family in Chelan County. She didn’t come back.
When determining custody of children in cases that cross state lines, US courts typically follow the decisions of the original court to avoid conflict. If it is a foreign country, the country is treated as a state. However, courts can circumvent this when there is a human rights violation.
“At the heart of this case is a very basic and complex question: What are the basic principles of human rights?” Ferrera wrote. “Washington and US law and jurisprudence have not clearly defined these principles as they relate to custody laws in foreign states, so arbitrating court cases in determining child custody are at a disadvantage in answering this question. ”
She pointed out the importance of respecting and respecting cultural differences and the laws of other countries, but said that state law cannot deny anyone the right to due process and a parent’s right to their child by doing so Enforced orders from a country that “denies them” These rights are based solely on their gender, national origin and religion. Compliance with such custody laws would deny a litigator in the courts of our state the constitutional rights of our state and our country. ”
Bethany AlHaidari called Ferrera’s decision “brave” and said she was proud of Washington for advocating human rights.
“I think it’s worth noting that this court has just made a decision that could really, really save the lives of so many people,” she said, warning that Ferrera’s decision is not yet jurisdiction and could be overturned on appeal.
Volyn called it a “difficult” and “powerful” decision because the court has to weigh important factors.
“One of our long-standing principles is to watch the decisions of court systems other than our own outside our country and show them due respect and respect, but there is a limit to that,” said Volyn. “And it comes up against a limit when compared to our own civil justice system and the rights of our citizens and the way we have designed our process to ensure fairness, equality and equal justice for over 200 years or more now.”
The next step is to develop a permanent parenting plan.
“Given that the mother and daughter have been living in the United States since around December 2019 and the father had no contact other than video or phone contact, there is no doubt that this is an argument in favor of maintaining this stability,” said Volyn.
Ghassan AlHaidari filed a response to the Supreme Court on February 23 stating he disagreed with Ferrera’s claims that Washington was an appropriate place to hear the custody case and that he disagreed with a proposed plan for parenting.
He made his stance clear in previous filings with the Supreme Court when defending the Saudi legal system, saying it ultimately gives both parents joint custody.
“[Bethany’s] The report on how this result was achieved ignores the result obtained, i.e. an agreed joint custody agreement, ”wrote Ghassan.
He added that the Saudi court’s decision should be upheld.
“Washington law works differently, but not so differently that a Washington court would rightly find that the Saudi Arabian legal system violates the fundamental principles of human rights,” wrote Ghassan.
Bethany AlHaidari is currently helping get House Bill 1042 through state legislation that will give the courts more authority on cases like hers.
“Does it really make it difficult in cases where there are authoritarian regimes that punish apostasy or political disagreement with the death penalty?” or homosexuality? and these things are really necessary to take into account, but they are not possible right now, ”she said.
The law was passed by the Senate Law and Justice Committee on February 25 and passed to the Senate Committee.