The government of Iran has refused to hand over the 6-year-old daughter of Colombian national Sandra Meneses, who tricked her Iranian husband into a “vacation” back to her hometown of Cali in order to escape the myriad abuses she had endured while living with him in Iran.
According to Colombia’s RCN news, Meneses had told her Colombian family she was returning home to stay but told her husband, who has not been named, that she was hoping the three of them could vacation in the South American country. Once there, “the woman told him that she would never return to [Iran],” RCN notes. “The man took his daughter and fled to the Iranian embassy in Bogotá,” the outlet adds, calling the abduction an “act of revenge.”
The Iranian government has flatly refused to return the child to her mother. In a statement to RCN, an official at the embassy noted that all three individuals are seen in the eyes of Iranian law as Iranian citizens. “As such, this embassy supports all Iranian citizens without reservations,” the statement read.
Iran is not a signatory to any international legal conventions regarding parental abduction. As the nation is governed by strict Sharia law, fathers have significantly more control over their children than mothers. “The terminology of ‘parental abduction’ does not exist in Iranian laws; nevertheless, hampering custody orders by one of the parents or a third party has civil and criminal aspects punishable by punitive damages and imprisonment,” the Library of Congress notes, adding, “A parent cannot and should not be deprived of his/her custody or visitation rights, unless due to a legal necessity, and by a court order.” Spousal abuse complaints from a wife are rarely taken as a “legal necessity” that would require the child to be taken away from a father.
RCN notes that Meneses fears being treated as an Iranian citizen by the government there because of the ill treatment women receive in that court system. Carolina Zambrano, a cousin of Meneses’s, told the outlet, “the consequences she may face from the moment she stood up to her husband, because of their religious traditions, are that she could lose her life.”
Colombia is a particularly attractive hub for Middle Eastern immigrants in Latin America. It boasts a robust Lebanese and Syrian population and its cities are home to a healthy Iranian population. Iran appears to have seen an opportunity for expanding its influence in the region, sending Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif on a Latin American tour in August.
While the Iranian government has overtly courted business in the region, the terrorist outfit Hezbollah, which Iran supports financially, has cemented its ties with many drug trafficking and terrorist operations in the region, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Iranian “cultural centers” have also served to promote both Iranian political interests and Shiite Islam throughout Latin America, largely depending on the warm diplomatic ties with the socialist dictatorship in neighboring Venezuela.
The outreach appears to have worked: the Muslim population of Latin America and the Caribbean grew nearly 25 percent between 2010 and 2016.
Iran is a prolific employer of the death penalty, particularly against women who violate Sharia law. The NGO Safe World for Women lists the crimes punishable by death for women in Iran: adultery, lesbianism, murder, and “moharebeh,” a vague law that’s meaning can be translated as anything from “heresy” to “working to undermine the Islamic system” or “cooperating with foreign agents.” It is possible that Meneses’s husband may employ this last charge given Meneses’s use of the Colombian legal system and media to attempt to escape spousal abuse.
Iran has exacerbated its use of the death penalty in recent years. Amnesty International described the use of capital punishment as “extensive” between 2015 and 2016, noting that the government provides for such inhuman execution methods as stoning and relies on “vague charges” and unfair trials to determine whom to execute. A particularly egregious execution season occurred during the first half of 2015, when nearly 700 people were killed.