Family’s pain continues as two remain
A Port Elizabeth woman who returned home yesterday after a nightmare ordeal in a Saudi Arabian prison believes her experience has brought her closer to God.
Huda Mohammad Desai, 34, and her brother, Shah Waliyullah Desai, 28, returned to Port Elizabeth after almost a year of being detained in Zahban Military Prison in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah.
They were greeted by an emotional crowd of family and friends, as well as interested onlookers, at the Port Elizabeth Airport.
The siblings were detained by the Saudi government for “security reasons” in November.
Huda said they were held because someone had reported them to the authorities.
“I want to thank that person from the very bottom of my heart for making me the person I am today,” she said.
“I’ve never been closer to God than when I was behind those doors. Everything was taken away from me, but they could not take the faith in God away from me.’
“To that person [who reported them], thank you very much, you are forgiven.”
She said her daughter, Ruqayyah, 8, whom she had not seen or heard from in almost a year, would not talk to or hug her upon her return, but that she was confident her child would “come back to me and love her mummy as she did before”.
Their father, prominent Islamic teacher Nazier Desai, 66, said his feelings were divided as two more of his children were still in custody. The family would continue to work to have them released.
“I’m extremely happy to have them back, but mixed with that are feelings of anxiety and fear,” the father of 10 children said.
“For almost a year, our family has had to go through this pain. They were illegally, wrongfully arrested, they [were] reported falsely. No charges were brought against them.
“From day one, they [Saudi authorities] told these children, ‘we have made a mistake, we will apologise and soon you will go home’. That ‘soon’ [turned] into one year.”
He said his children were detained even though not a shred of evidence that they were a security threat was provided.
There was a very vague security act in the Saudi legislation, he said.
“Let me put it to you this way – if you say something that is in disagreement with the government, you can be arrested and imprisoned for one year.”
The release of his two other children, daughter Yumna Desai, 27, and son Shah Waseeullah Desai, 24, hinged on the procedure being followed by the Saudi government.
“My youngest son had a car on his name, and according to the Saudi authorities, you cannot leave with something on your name.
“It took us five months to get the car off his name, while they don’t have any charges against my daughter,” he said.
A relieved Nazier said he had been on two trips to Saudi Arabia of 30 days each, and gave credit to the Saudi government for its treatment of him and his wife, Hafsah, 58, while they had been in the country, saying the authorities were very kind and accommodating.
He also said the South African authorities had done their utmost to assist the family, but were not getting the responses they needed from the Saudi authorities.
Huda said: “The hardest part was leaving my baby sister in the cell, closing the door in her face, and coming back home. The same goes for my little brother.”
Shah Waliyullah said although he was relieved to be home, “half of his heart” was with his two siblings still in prison.
Youngest sister Safa, 19, could not contain her excitement at the airport.
“It’s overwhelming to see my siblings again,” she said, although she too had mixed feelings because of the others.