SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—Thousands of Puerto Ricans are demanding justice for a university professor arrested after refusing to return her toddler to her ex-husband in the mainland U.S. under a court-ordered agreement.
The custody battle has led supporters to organize a protest Sunday at a woman’s jail along the island’s north coast, where Maha Abdel Rahim is being held until a Jan. 17 extradition hearing.
More than 5,000 people have joined several Facebook pages demanding that Rahim be released and be given custody of her 4-year-old son, Kamal. More than 3,000 people also signed a petition addressed to U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. senators and representatives asking that a California court award custody to Rahim.
Police arrested Rahim Thursday in San Juan after she did not turn over the boy to his father, who lives in California.
“I have no right to anything, as usual,” she calmly told reporters as she was escorted to jail. “My only worry is Kamal … He’s in danger. Sometimes you can’t talk about everything publicly.”
Puerto Rico police were acting on a court order issued by authorities in California, where a judge had awarded primary physical custody to Kamal’s father. The details of the judge’s order were not immediately available, but Rahim has said the judge believes the U.S. territory is too violent and does not have an adequate education or health care system.
Rahim called it an “unjustified condemnation of Puerto Rico.”
“This is a violation of both the mother and child’s rights,” she wrote in the petition.
The island of 4 million people reported a record 1,117 homicides in 2011, although the majority of crime is linked to drug-trafficking.
The boy’s Syrian father could not be reached for comment. Rahim’s relatives did not return calls for comment, nor did her attorney.
Rahim, who lives in Puerto Rico with her Palestinian father and Syrian mother, has said she wants custody of her son because the boy’s father is a strict Muslim and plans to take the boy back to the war-torn country.
The couple began fighting over the boy in 2010 in a battle that has involved both local and U.S. courts.
Joining the battle now are thousands of supporters and a few dozen detractors, the majority of whom say that Rahim would not be in this situation if she had turned over her son to his father.
Rahim is an instructional designer at Caribbean University, a private school in Puerto Rico’s northern city of Bayamon.