At first glance Jennifer Birrell is a free woman living a privileged life in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
"It's a weird prison," she concedes. "A big house with a pool and a nice new car, all behind massive concrete walls that no one can see inside of. That's the prison. So I live here with my maid and my kids and my driver."
But here the 33-year-old Muslim convert is trapped, unable to obtain an exit visa to return to Australia, and with no right to visit her husband, Mohammed Ahmed Nagi, in jail. Also 33, he has been held in the Malaz prison for more than 15 months. He has another 21 months to serve. He has endured 200 lashes, 50 at a time, and will be subjected to 100 more.
The couple's hellish predicament – detailed in Birrell's pleading letter to the Saudi king – rests on several flimsy pieces of paper, all wielded by her abusive former husband.
This is the Yemeni man she married in Australia in 1998 and who fathered three of her children, all Australian citizens.
They moved to Saudi Arabia in 2004, but she fled from him two years and three months ago, fearing for her life, after he allegedly threatened to kill her and bashed her three times with a candle stick, caving in her forehead.
Among his pieces of paper was an old mobile phone bill. He had her account redirected to him while they were separated, and he took the bill to police in July last year, five months after he granted her a divorce in court.
By now Birrell's colleague Mohammed Nagi had offered to become her guardian, or mahram.
In accordance with Muslim custom, he had asked her father's permission and they married in June last year, in accordance with Sharia law, at the Egyptian embassy in Riyadh.
Their marriage certificate was legalised in the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Saudi Ministry of Justice. After all, the law in the kingdom requires a woman have a male guardian.
H/T: David F.