Marlene Vierra said a judge in Saudi Arabia ruled her niece, Bethany, was not fit to parent because she was "too Western."
LONDON — A close relative of an American mother who said she lost a custody battle over her daughter in Saudi Arabia for being "too Western" said her family was living through a nightmare.Marlene Vierra said her niece, Bethany Vierra, had fought to keep her daughter in a custody battle in Saudi Arabia but that the judge had ruled she was not fit to parent."They found Bethany not suitable to be a mother of Zaina because she was too Western," Vierra told NBC News. "It's like a nightmare that just won't stop."
Bethany, who is originally from Washington state, is appealing the decision.The young mother moved to the Gulf Kingdom and married a Saudi citizen in a ceremony in Portugal. But after her marriage turned sour, she entered into a legal battle to keep custody of four-year-old Zaina, Vierra said.In a desperate Facebook post written on Aug. 7, Bethany said that she and her daughter had suffered abuse but still she was the one who was being punished by the courts. The young mother also claimed that the Saudi Ministry of Justice had banned her from traveling for 10 years and that Saudi authorities had issued a warrant for her arrest."What is my crime? Doing a handstand? Not being Saudi? Not covering my body while I was on vacation in the United States of America?" she wrote in the post."There aren't many things I do well, but being mother to Zaina is one thing I know that I was divinely designed to be," she wrote. "She's my everything, my purpose, my sidekick and my joy."Bethany did not name her alleged abuser and NBC News could not immediately confirm the ruling or get in touch with Zaina's father who Bethany did not name. The Saudi Ministry of Justice also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.Bethany said on Facebook that her daughter was now having nightmares and cries every time she leaves the room because she is afraid she could be taken away.Vierra said her niece came from a big family with morals and lots of love that was now being torn apart."I think about that four year-old-little girl and what she's going through and she doesn't understand it, she sees her mom upset and Bethany will not leave her daughter, she will fight for her," Vierra said, adding that she could not imagine the pain her niece must be going through.Asked about the case in March, a State Department official said the department was aware of reports of a U.S. citizen unable to leave Saudi Arabia with her daughter. "We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular services in cases to U.S. citizens abroad," the official added.The case comes at a time when Saudi Arabia's position on women's rights appears to be changing.Earlier this month, the kingdom published new laws that loosen restrictions on women by allowing any citizen to apply for a passport and travel freely, ending a long-standing guardianship policy that gave men control over women. Previously, women were required to have a man's consent to obtain a passport or travel abroad.Other changes issued in the decrees allow women to register a marriage, divorce or child's birth and to be issued official family documents. It also stipulates that a father or mother can be legal guardians of children.The legal system has long been criticized because it treated women as minors throughout their adult lives.Still in place, however, are rules that require male consent for a woman to leave prison, exit a domestic abuse shelter or marry. Women, unlike men, cannot pass on citizenship to their children and cannot provide consent for their children to marry.