Star-crossed lovers get their happy ending

The couple flanked by family members and council members at Torrox town hall.
The couple flanked by family members and council members at Torrox town hall. / E. Cabezas
  • Jimena Rico’s and Shaza Ismail’s terrifying Middle Eastern ordeal is over and they will get married “very soon”

An epic journey across three countries, fleeing discrimination for their sexual orientation, will have a happy ending. Hispano-Argentinian María Jimena Rico, 28, and Egyptian Shaza Ismail, 21, will be getting married “very soon” in Torrox, the town where the former moved in 2001, and where her father Francisco, 69, is from.

The pair are already planning the big day and say they wouldn’t mind if the town’s mayor, Óscar Medina (PP), officiated. Medina welcomed them to the town hall on Tuesday and accompanied them to a press conference where they gave details of the ordeal they faced.

“Every second, something new came up; a new emotion, a new fear,” said Jimena Rico who was advised not to disclose every detail given that Shaza’s legal situation in Spain still needed to be resolved.

The whole episode began on 14 April when the couple flew from London, where they lived, to Dubai, where they had been tricked into going by Shaza’s father who said that her mother was ill. It proved to be a rouse as he had reported their relationship to the authorities - in a country where homosexuality is punishable by 14 years in prison.

When they felt their life “was in danger”, they fled to Georgia where they had friends.

After staying there for three days, they were about to catch a flight back to London when Shaza’s father intercepted them at Tiflis airport. “He faked having a heart attack, destroyed our documentation and threatened to kill us,” she said.

After this altercation, in which the police intervened, Shaza’s father was arrested and the couple were escorted to the border with Turkey, where they entered “legally” having secured replacement documents.

Despite this, though, they were detained as “suspected members of ISIS”, something the couple suspect was the doing of Shaza’s father’s lawyer. What’s more, they were required to sign a document, in Turkish, which would relinquish their right to consular assistance.

They were detained for three days - the first two without being given anything to eat - and on being transferred, Jimena Rico got hold of a phone and raised the alarm with her family. This is when the search began, “because up until that point, Turkey had denied that they were in the country,” she said.

“The worst moment was when they separated us and they made Shaza believe that I had gone and left her there,” she said, adding: “I would never have left without her because if I had, she would never have got out of there.”

The level of distrust that was created meant that even when they were at the airport to be deported, they didn’t believe it would actually happen.

For her part, Shaza Ismail confessed that she expected her parents’ reaction “to a certain extent” because they are very religious people, but also hoped that “with time they will come to accept it”.

She was less forgiving about the treatment they received in Turkey, however, calling it “unexpected, inhumane and horrible”. The couple have officially filed a complaint over their mistreatment at the hands of the Turkish authorities.

Asked whether she thought their story would have any repercussions in the Arab world, Jimena Rico said that she hoped it would help “a lot of people who live in repression because of their sexuality”.