The US Saudi custody case is coming to Chelan County Courtroom

Bethany Vierra and her daughter in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Office for Women’s Skills, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)

WENATCHEE – A Wenatchee native appeared in court Monday to prevent her 5-year-old daughter from being returned to the child’s father in Saudi Arabia.

Bethany Ann Vierra Alhaidari fought for custody of the child in Saudi courts for two years while she was divorcing her Saudi husband. She now lives in Chelan County and has asked Supreme Court Justice Kristin Ferrera to maintain and enforce the child’s residence here in the United States.

Her attorney, Scott Volyn, argued that custody of Vierra’s husband should be thrown out in the Saudi courts, as Saudi guardianship laws favor predominantly Muslim men over non-Muslim women.

“A custody tribunal in Saudi Arabia where the mother is an American citizen as is the child and the father a Saudi citizen is hardly an impartial tribunal,” Volyn said, arguing that Saudi Arabia’s brutal Human Rights Record and Human Rights Women’s rights mean that family court rulings should be ignored in American courts.

“The court indicated that my client would be returning now, that she would be imprisoned and / or killed, and there is a fair amount of information to match that claim,” Volyn told Ferrera.

Ferrera said she would look at key points on the case at a later hearing, including a contempt for the court motion against Vierra’s ex-husband.

Vierra attended Central Washington University in Ellensburg and studied human rights as a Ph.D. Candidate at the National University of Ireland.
She moved to Saudi Arabia in 2011 after teaching English and American culture in Tunisia.

In Riyadh, she founded a yoga studio in the diplomatic field that takes care of foreign clients and expatriates. She married her Saudi husband in 2013 and changed her name in the Chelan County Court the following year.

Vierra and her husband divorced in Saudi courts in 2018 after she alleged he abused them emotionally and verbally. A cousin of Vierra told the New York Times in March that her ex-husband, who sponsored her Saudi residence, let her out and threatened her chance to stay in the country.

This sponsorship was key to their ability to stay in the country and exercise their parental rights under Saudi law. Vierra left Saudi Arabia with her daughter to return by order of a Saudi court last December, but said she had no intention of doing so.

She told Ferrera she did not intend her case as a sweeping attack on Islamic interpretations of law.

“… It is not Sharia law or Islamic law per se that is problematic
or is questionable in this case, “she said. “There are countless different interpretations of Islamic law, and some of these interpretations protect and uphold human rights, while some interpretations simply don’t. The rigid and discriminatory interpretation of Islamic law by the Saudi government is particularly dangerous and is called into question here. “

She said the Saudi practice of male guardianship over families and “sponsoring” foreign visitors are “modern forms of slavery.”

“Saudi Arabia has superficially reformed male guardianship
Laws, “Vierra said,” but as Human Rights Watch has rightly argued, these reformations did not address core issues of gender discrimination, which are currently fully intact. “

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