Jimena and Sasha

After three days of trepidation for María Jimena Rico Montero’s family and friends, the 28-year-old Argentine-Spanish woman who disappeared with her Egyptian girlfriend on Monday has now made contact with her family in Spain. The couple, who were escaping to Turkey from Dubai, where Sasha’s father had denounced her for her sexuality, are currently being held at a police station in Istanbul, according to Jimena’s sister.

“I just spoke to her. She told me that she had been detained, handcuffed and prevented from communicating with anyone for three days,” María del Valle Rico told La Nación. She explained that her sister’s belongings had been taken off her when she was arrested by the Turkish police. “Now they’re moving her, so she was given her things back, her phone included, and she could call us.”

This was the first update that Jimena’s family had received vis-à-vis her whereabouts or safety since 9.30am on Monday morning when she warned them from Istanbul, “If I don’t call you by 12pm, something has happened to me.” Sure enough, her fears came true.

Jimena, who was born in Argentina but had since moved to Spain with her family, has been working in London for the last four years. She met her girlfriend, Sasha Se, when completing a 2-month work contract in Dubai and, after some back and forth, Sasha moved to England to study for a masters. Knowing her father’s strong views on homosexuality but protected by the distance, the 30-year-old Egyptian national was able to come clean about her relationship.

Their crime: being gay.

But it was last week that the couple’s worst nightmares started becoming a reality. They travelled to Dubai together after Sasha’s father pretended that her mother was suffering from a terminal illness. When the couple arrived in the country, they discovered the disturbing truth: the young woman’s father, a wealthy businessman from Egypt, had lured them there in order to report them to the police for their homosexual relationship, the punishment for which in Dubai is the death penalty.

According to one of Jimena’s friends in Argentina, as soon as they arrived at the airport in Dubai, Sasha’s father hijacked them. “They wanted to kill Sasha and hand Jimena over to the authorities. Jimena didn’t want to leave her girlfriend alone,” Noelia explained on Argentine news show Arribas Argentinos.

The young women knew they had no choice but to flee from the country. “The family is crazy, they’re going to kill us,” was one of the last messages sent by Jimena before her disappearance.

They bought flights to Georgia, on their way back to London, but that wasn’t enough to ensure their safety: Sasha’s father had followed them there, breaking their passports and threatening them with death, according to their friend. “He’d had a detective follow them there,” Noelia explained. However, the couple seemed to have a stroke of luck when the man was detained at the Tiflis airport in Georgia, and they carried on their journey by bus to get to the nearest embassy, in Turkey.

The couple was detained for three days without communication in Turkey.

Their luck would not last, though. The young women, arriving in Turkey undocumented, were taken off the bus by police, and thus began their two-day radio silence. Jimena’s family, based in the south of Spain, reported her as missing after the young woman said that she feared for their lives due to Sasha’s father’s violent behaviour.

Jimena’s sister has given details, now that the young couple has been located, that the family is “making diplomatic efforts to release her and let her leave Turkey.” The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has entreated the consulate in Istanbul to help her and the Argentine authorities are also said to be collaborating in the mission.

This afternoon, Jimena’s safety was also confirmed by the Argentine deputy consul, Alicia Barone, in dialogue with A24: “The girl is fine. The situation, in principle, is now resolved,” assured the diplomat.

This afternoon, Jimena will be transferred to a deportation center to finally leave the country. Unfortunately, Sasha’s situation may be much more difficult – homosexuality is not only illegal in Dubai, where her family is living, but also in her home country, Egypt. She will be waiting to see if she can get a visa to travel or will have to rely on political asylum.