The family of a British woman trapped in the United Arab Emirates and facing charges of kidnapping her young son have accused the UK authorities of abandoning her.
Afsana Lachaux, 46, from Poplar, east London, was a British civil servant when she met a wealthy French currency dealer who she married in 2010. The couple moved to Dubai where she gave birth to their son, Louis.
Months later, the family claim, her husband became violent. They also claim he hid Louis’s French passport, and refused to allow him to be registered as a British citizen.
She tried to return to the UK, but her husband secured a travel ban on Louis from a Dubai court and reported her for libel which led to her passport being confiscated. He also initiated divorce proceedings.
Mrs Lachaux turned to the UK consulate for help. Her son Rabbhi Yahiya, 26, says that officials referred her to a refuge for victims of domestic violence. But, he added, they didn’t realise the refuge was legally bound to notify her husband once she checked in. He also claims that while attending a police station to answer a complaint of her ex-husband, she was physically assaulted by a guard and Louis was denied food and water.
Fearing for her own safety, her son says, Mrs Lachaux was forced on the run. In August 2012, in her absence, the court, applying Sharia, gave custody to her ex-husband on the basis that Ms Lachaux was an unfit mother.
Then in October, her ex-husband took Louis while he was at a playground with one of her friends. She has not seen him since.
Ms Lachaux’s ex-husband filed a further case against her for kidnapping, and if found guilty, she could face several years in prison.
Mr Yahiya says he has written several letters to the Foreign Office to no avail. “As a family, we are disgusted with the way they have handled my mother’s case,” he said. In the past year, Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague, have made official trips to Dubai in a bid to secure a lucrative sale of Eurofighter Typhoon military jets.
“Most of our calls were never returned. They don’t want to jeopardise the sale,” claimed Mr Yahiya.
Rori Donaghy, director of Emirates Centre for Human Rights, added: “The British government have failed to support Afsana, because they were seduced by the deal.” Meanwhile Nick McGeehan, Middle East Director for Human Rights Watch, said the “UAE’s laws discriminate against women”, meaning “Mrs Lachaux cannot be guaranteed a fair trial.” Mrs Lachaux’s MP, Labour’s Jim Fitzpatrick, told The Independent: “The way Afsana Lachaux has been treated is appalling. As a woman in a Muslim country the authorities there have taken the word of the man as true.”
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We cannot interfere in the judicial process of another country. We will continue to provide consular assistance to the family.”
* We have been contacted by Mrs Lachaux’s former husband’s representatives in relation to this article. He wishes to make clear that he strongly disputes his former wife’s version of events. In particular, he says he was not violent towards Mrs Lachaux. He denies that he accused his former wife without reason of kidnapping Louis . Rather, he accused her of abduction and a court in Dubai found her guilty of that charge. He states that he lawfully regained custody of Louis on 29 October 2013. (Updated 23 January 2015)
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