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Arrest of mother in custody case sparks public backlash.

Summary: Local rights groups Friday denounced the arrest of Lebanese mother Fatima Hamzeh for refusing to give up her child and called for street protests to be held over the weekend.

BEIRUT: Local rights groups Friday denounced the arrest of Lebanese mother Fatima Hamzeh for refusing to give up her child and called for street protests to be held over the weekend. The arrest was also met with an outpouring of anger on social media.

Hamzeh, who refused to give up her 3-1/2-year-old son Ali following a custody battle with her estranged husband, was arrested Wednesday and is being held at the Ghobeiri police station.

The custody battle, which took place in the Shiite Jaafari Court, awarded her husband Mohammad Jezzini custody of the toddler, her lawyer and sister Fadia Hamzeh told The Daily Star.

"There has been a judicial dispute between Fatima and her husband since 2013 [at the Jaafari Court]," Fadia told The Daily Star.

Hamzeh and her estranged husband, whom she married in 2012, are not divorced but live separately. "Since then, she has been living at her parents' [house] and he was living at their [marital] home," Fadia said.

She added that when her sister gave birth to Ali, her husband was happy for her to move in with her parents given that she needed help raising the child at the time. However, Fadia claimed that Mohammad then changed his mind over his marriage to Hamzeh.

The dispute between Hamzeh and Jezzini, who is now remarried, has been ongoing ever since.

"He filed a lawsuit before the court asking for custody, saying that his son was [then] 2 years old," Fadia noted. "The decision over the case was issued in April 2016."

Hamzeh refused to accept the judgment that ordered her to give up her child, Fadia said. She claimed that the father rarely asked about Ali and didn't visit him often.

"Fatima refused [to hand over the child] and then police from Haret Hreik [police station] took her [when] she was coming from work. They left all the criminals, the terrorists and the drug dealers and they took her," Fadia exclaimed.

Late Friday she said that Jaafari Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Qabalan contacted her in an attempt to find a solution to the issue.

The public anger over the arrest of Hamzeh was largely caused by the precedent that says the Jaafari Court automatically grants custody to the father when the child reaches 2 years of age, if the parents are divorced. However, Sheikh Ali al-Mawla, a judge at the Jaafari Court, told The Daily Star that divorce isn't a condition to decide in such matters.

"They are still married by contract, but residence-wise they are separated," Mawla, the Jaafari Court judge in Beirut, explained. "There is the issue of her clinging to custody when he is asking for his child too ... be it the mother or the father, it is wrong for either to keep the child under their sole control."

Mawla explained that in such cases, the rights of the child are also affected. When asked whether the issue was a matter of being married or divorced, Mawla replied, "No, the [issue] is that there is a child whom his mother and father want to see." The sheikh added that he believes the child needs contact with both parents.

While appeals in such cases are challenging given the weighting of the law in favor of fathers, Mawla claimed that Hamzeh's family hadn't properly exhausted all legal routes. He also claimed that there have been custody cases where a verdict has been changed on appeal.

The news of the arrest, however, wasn't received well across Lebanese society, with many expressing their disapproval of Hamzeh's arrest on social media platforms.

The Protecting Lebanese Women campaign, which has been working to raise the age of custody in the Shiite sect for three years, called for a protest to denounce the move and express solidarity with Hamzeh. The demonstration will be held in front of the Higher Shiite Council in Haret Hreik at 4 p.m. Saturday.

"The matter is no longer an issue of raising the age of custody, it is that the woman is in jail," Zeina Ibrahim of PLW told The Daily Star.

Despite working on the issue of custody age in the Shiite sect for years, the PLW has been able to make little progress.

Ibrahim also warned that the precedent set by Hamzeh's case may allow other men to put women under pressure.

The hashtag "With Fatima against the Jaafari Court" has been trending on Twitter with several users expressing solidarity with the women and others sharing their own experiences.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Nov 5, 2016
Words:794
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