The predicament of incarcerated Egyptian businesswoman Nagla Wafa, who was jailed in Saudi Arabia three years ago, drew the country's attention when Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam El-Erian took up her cause via his Twitter account on Sunday.
In September 2009, Wafa was arrested and incarcerated in a Saudi prison for a year and a half without proper investigation, legal representation or trial, her father Yehia Wafa told Ahram Online in a rare interview, Tuesday.
She later faced trial, during which she was forbidden from hiring a lawyer. After 13 sessions, she was sentenced to five years in prison and 500 lashes. So far, she has served 300 of these floggings.
According to her father, Wafa’s story started seven years ago when the mother-of-two travelled to Riyadh with her then husband to launch a flourishing career as a wedding planner and flower arrangement expert. Her clients included Saudi elites and members of the royal family. As her business boomed, one of them, a daughter of the king, asked to be her partner.
"Hesitant at first, Nagla later agreed as the princess bought out the shares of my daughter’s other business partner, another Saudi woman," Wafa's father told Ahram Online.
Yehia Wafa, who has only seen his daughter once in the last three years, added that the princess rarely contributed financially to the partnership until one day she gave Wafa a cheque for SR2 million, requesting that she open a restaurant.
Enthusiastic about the new project, Yehia Wafa explained, Wafa started working on setting up the establishment. However, her father added, the princess’s cortège were not pleased with the fledging partnership.
"Nagla chose to stay away from the people the princess associated with as she knew their work wasn't that honest, however they succeeded in turning the princess against my daughter and over night the princess stopped answering Nagla's phone calls," Yehia Wafa said.
Later, while in Cairo for her brother's wedding, Wafa was informed that her office in the Saudi capital was being raided and that documents and laptops had been confiscated.
"Naglaa went back to Riyadh not expecting trouble, only to be greeted by a travel ban," continues her father.
As the situation escalated, Naglaa was arrested but was unable to reach her family to explain her predicament for almost a month.
It is only recently, after three years in jail, that Nagla's family has been able to hire her a lawyer.
“The Egyptian embassy's legal advisor has tried more than once to organise power of attorney so that we could get her legal representation but it was almost impossible," explained Nagla's father.
The family initially avoided speaking to the media following threats from the princess’s lawyer that he would use a contact in Egypt’s state security (before it was dissolved following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak) against the family if his client’s name was exposed.
The princess's lawyer also promised to secure Wafa’s release if her family paid back the SR2 million cheque, which Wafa had spent on establishing the restaurant. This amount, her father told Ahram Online, they “simply couldn’t afford.”
This did not stop the family from trying. "Before Mubarak was toppled we reached out to him and sent him details of my daughter's situation but there was no reply. We contacted his son Alaa as well and again we received no response," he said.
"However things have changed. If we had still been in the time of Mubarak I wouldn’t have been able to contact the media," Yehia Wafa explained who, in spite of his exhaustion, was still hopeful. He has recently started reaching out to Egypt's new officials.
Saudi Arabia has been frequently criticised for its unjust treatment of Egyptians.
The number of Egyptian citizens detained in Saudi prisons remains unknown. However, the issue is slowly being covered in the Egyptian media following the arrest of young lawyer Ahmed El-Gizawi who, according to his family, was imprisoned for filing a complaint against the Saudi royal family for "unlawfully" detaining Egyptians.
Saudi authorities charged El-Gizawi with drug smuggling, he was jailed pending trial in September.
Wafa's case is also starting to attract public attention.
The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) issued a statement Monday condemning her detention. According to the civil society group, Wafa is now suffering from problems in her spinal cord as result of being lashed.
"What this Egyptian citizen has been exposed to violates all international human rights charters," said EOHR head Hafez Abu-Seida.
Abu-Seida further added that the EOHR has sent a letter of complaint to the United Nations outlining Wafa's situation as well as promising to launch a campaign calling for her release.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and President Mohamed Morsi need to interfere immediately," Abu-Seida concluded.