Locked up: How London couple ended up in a Turkish jail

By James Badcock

  • Published
Spaniard Maria Jimena Rico and her Egyptian girlfriend Shaza Ismail pose for photographers as they attend a press conference at the city hall of Torrox, near Malaga, southern Spain, 02 May 2017Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Jimena Rico and Shaza Ismail are back in Spain after a three-week ordeal

Less than a month ago, Spaniard Jimena Rico, and Egyptian-born Shaza Ismail were just like any other young, gay couple in London, the city where their romance blossomed.

But after a call from Ms Ismail's father, the two set out on on a trip which they say involved death threats, escape across international borders, and a spell in a Turkish jail where, Ms Ismail says, the treatment was "unexpected, inhumane and horrible".


Safe in Ms Rico's Spanish hometown of Torrox, the couple faced the cameras to reveal a nightmarish three-week ordeal which, according to Ms Rico, began after her partner's family in Dubai had tried to separate them by force.

"I really want to tell our story because I think it could help many people who live in a situation of repression for being homosexual," Ms Rico told reporters who had gathered in the room to hear their story.

It had all started innocently enough. According to the 28-year-old, the couple flew from London to Dubai on 14 April because Ms Ismail's father had said that her mother was ill in hospital.

"But it was a trick," said Jimena Rico. "He threatened to kill us and said we could go to jail for being lesbians."

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Ms Rico (R) embraces her sister (C) on her return to Spain

According to her partner, 21-year-old Ms Ismail was locked up by her family. But the couple managed to escape and flew to Tbilisi, Georgia, from where they were hoping to catch a connecting flight to London.

But even putting more than 2,000 miles between them and Ms Ismail's family had not guaranteed their safety.

Ms Ismail's father appeared at the airport and the Egyptian woman's papers, including the visa she needed to return to the UK, were torn up in the altercation.

Ms Rico explained that at this point the Georgian authorities escorted the couple to the Turkish border. Spain's foreign ministry says the couple were then arrested in Samsun, northern Turkey, and taken to Istanbul.

There, they were arrested on a charge "apparently to do with terrorism", says Ms Rico, adding that they signed papers they did not understand.

Ms Rico got word to her family, who reported the situation to the Spanish police.

After three days in a Turkish jail, the Spanish foreign ministry managed to secure their release - allowing them to fly home to Spain, where Ms Rico's relieved family welcomed them with open arms.

"I thought we were not going to get out of [prison]," Ms Rico said. "They told me I could leave but she had to stay, and I said I wasn't going without her."

Ms Ismail's father, however, tells a different version of events, although he admits travelling to Tbilisi airport and forcibly attempting to retain his daughter.

"When she arrived in Dubai, I embraced her," the unnamed father told Spain's Antena 3 television station.

"She said she wanted to stay in London and I asked her to come home and talk about her being a lesbian because she told us via text message. She came out of the closet like that, sending her mother a text message."

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Ms Rico (R) hopes she will be able to marry her girlfriend, who is on a temporary visa in Spain

Ms Ismail's father said that he offered to take his daughter to a psychologist and that she had agreed to stay in Dubai and study there. Then, he claimed, his daughter vanished from the family home.

"I went to the police after she had disappeared. A friend told me Shaza was in Georgia and I reported that she had run away or been kidnapped."

He explained that he had gone to Tbilisi with a lawyer, but insisted the only papers he had torn up were part of an old passport belonging to his daughter.

Jimena Rico accepts her partner's father is doing what he thinks is best: "I know that [Ms Ismail's] father loves her. But his mind is so closed that he can't understand."

She is now hoping to marry Shaza Ismail, currently staying with her on a temporary visa after the Spanish government secured the couple's release.