“She must feel so violated.” A South African mother is petitioning for authorities to help her son and his fiancée‚ who have been in jail since the end of January – because they are expecting a baby.
Emlyn Culverwell‚ 29‚ from SA‚ and his fiancée‚ 27-year-old Iryna Nohai from Ukraine‚ were arrested in an Abu Dhabi hospital when the doctor revealed Nohai’s pregnancy.
Being unmarried‚ the couple had transgressed the United Arab Emirates’ morality laws.
After completing school in Port Elizabeth‚ Culverwell lived in Port Alfred for several years and was an active NSRI member before he moved to the UAE five years ago to work as a water rescue operative at Yas Waterworld. Culverwell was happy in his job‚ never getting into any trouble.
His mother‚ Linda Culverwell‚ traumatised over her son’s jailing‚ said he did not drink or smoke and is active and health-oriented man by nature.
It was in Abu Dhabi that he met Nohai‚ a Ukrainian national‚ who worked as an administration officer‚ and the couple started their courtship.
On January 29‚ the couple’s world shattered when Nohai complained of stomach cramps. Being concerned for his fiancée’s well-being‚ Culverwell took her to the Medeor Medical Centre in Yas Mall for a check-up. It is then when the doctor broke the news that Nohai was pregnant.
Knowing the implications in a Muslim country‚ Culverwell called his employer who arrived at the hospital the same time as the UAE authorities.
The couple were arrested when they could not provide a marriage certificate and for acting immorally.
They were taken to Yas Police Station and then later to Al Wathba Prison.
Under the perspective of Sharia law‚ Nohai is guilty of “Zina”‚ an Islamic term for extramarital sex.
People found guilty can be flogged and locked up for months to years under the Sharia-based legal system.
Since their arrest‚ no one‚ including employers and family members‚ has been able to make contact with the couple.
Linda‚ who has gleaned information from her son’s colleagues‚ said the couple appeared before a judge once but were denied bail‚ denied any state appointed legal representation and were not charged.
The couple requested to be married in prison‚ but the same judge denied the request.
According to UAE laws‚ couples and moreover women‚ who finds themselves imprisoned and guilty of Zina‚ are either married in prison or deported immediately.
Ongoing attempts have been made by Linda and her family to work through the South African Embassy to support Culverwell and Nohai.
The cost to hire a privately appointed attorney would run up to R18‚000 per person for once-off representation.
A Christian Church in Yas is willing to marry the couple‚ at a substantial fee‚ but the same judge refused.
“Our embassy is not doing enough. We hear nothing back from them‚ phone calls go unanswered‚ vague responses are given and even the emergency numbers don’t work‚” Linda said.
The traumatised mother had a breakdown and was admitted to a hospital for observation.
“I feel sick‚ I have been vomiting from stress‚” she said.
“We have tried going through the consulate. The woman said she was going to see Emlyn after the second week after arrest‚ but never gave feedback. We have tried Amnesty International‚ Foreign Affairs and Human Rights‚ but we are nowhere closer to having word of them‚” Linda said.
She said she only wants to know “the state of their health‚ the state of the other inmates and if Iryna is still pregnant”.
She said she lost her cool when a woman identified only as Tina from the Pretoria office for Foreign Affairs‚ said she must “just” be patient.
In the meantime‚ a colleague at Yas Waterworld‚ received word that part of the reason why the couple hasn’t been charged or allowed to marry is that Nohai is still undergoing tests.
Linda said these supposed tests are to determine the paternity of the baby‚ to determine HIV status as well as to see how long Noahi has been sexually active.
“I find it so degrading‚ I have worked my whole life in the medical field and I know there is no such test. The poor girl gave no consent for this. She must feel so violated‚ she must feel raped‚” Linda said.
For now Linda tries to find some comfort sharing any news and updates in broken communication with Nohai’s parents.
“At least the Ukraine Embassy is trying hard to intervene and is pushing for them to get married‚” Linda said.
The SA Department of International Relations and Cooperation media liaison spokesman Nelson Kgwete told the Daily Dispatch that the department was aware of the matter but the South African government was unable to interfere.
“Standard consular assistance is being provided to the couple but the South African government cannot interfere in the judicial process in another sovereign country‚” he said.
“Pregnant unmarried expatriate women are at risk of getting arrested‚ which happens from time to time as it is regarded as an offence in the UAE.”
Kgwete said it was up to the couple to appoint legal representation.
According to the mom‚ only family members with the same surname can visit the couple. And until they can determine the fine and the cost of lawyers‚ family members have to be strategic when they can plan the trip.
The family has no contact and has to rely on the efforts from friends and colleagues at Yas Waterworld to petition for them.
“I wish they would just deport them. Emlyn knows nothing. He probably doesn’t even know we are trying to get them out‚” Linda said.
The UAE’s penal code criminalizes Zina offenses‚ especially “guilty” women‚ with a minimum sentence of one year in prison. Zina offences include consensual sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage and other “moral” offenses. Hundreds of women‚ including the vast majority being foreign women‚ are locked up in the UAE every year for having sex outside of marriage – including pregnant women and rape victims. According to Human Rights Watch‚ the UAE’s Zina codes violate international human rights law which the UAE have signed treaties for.