Mother jailed for adultery to fight for custody

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A British mother jailed in the United Arab Emirates for adultery will be allowed to remain in the country to pursue a custody battle for her two children, it was revealed yesterday.

Marnie Pearce, 40, lost her sons after a Dubai court found she had cheated on her Egyptian ex-husband and sentenced her to three months in prison.

Her former husband, Ihab El Labban, was granted custody of the couple's boys, Laith, eight, and Ziad, four, last month.

Ms Pearce, originally from Bracknell, Berkshire, had faced deportation upon her release from jail but this has now been put on hold while she fights to win back her children.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: "The deportation order has been suspended while the child custody case is ongoing and the FCO welcomes this.

"We understand this is the end of her sentence now but rather than being deported she will be allowed to stay there.

"We will continue to provide consular assistance to her and her children."

According to reports, supply teacher Ms Pearce, who was imprisoned in February, could be freed tomorrow.

In a telephone interview from prison, she told the Sunday Mirror: "I didn't dare believe I would ever have the chance to hug my babies again.

"When I first heard the deportation order was going to be lifted I just felt numb. When the news did sink in I cried tears of joy."

Ms Pearce's case caught the attention of human rights campaigners, including the charity Amnesty International, who described her as a "prisoner of conscience".

Amnesty International UK campaigns director Tim Hancock said: "It's welcome news that Marnie Pearce is going to be released. She should never have been imprisoned in the first place.

"But her release is far from the end of this story. Marnie's suffering will continue as she is not able to see her sons and she does not know if she will be able to see them again.

"We understand that the deportation order has been suspended to allow Marnie time to apply for access to her children.

"But she should be allowed to challenge the previous decision to deny her custody - the authorities must ensure that she gets a fair hearing in which the views of the children and both parents are fairly represented without discrimination.

"There are allegations that there was violence within the marriage and that Marnie had to flee to a refuge, which were not raised at the initial custody hearing. Now this issue has come to light there should be a thorough investigation into it and its possible impact on the children.

"Any decision on custody of the children must be based on the children's best interests, and there are serious concerns that their rights have not been respected in this case. The future of these two boys should not be decided on the basis of an adultery conviction, one which Marnie Pearce has always disputed."

Ms Pearce met her ex-husband in Oman and the couple married in the Seychelles in September 1999.

But their marriage eventually broke down and in March last year she was arrested and accused of committing adultery with a British man who she insists was only a friend.

Ms Pearce, who protests her innocence, was found guilty of adultery by a Dubai court in November and lost appeals against her conviction in January and March.