Mahassen Issa is a 29-year-old teacher and mother from Sydney.
She has been trapped in Lebanon for months, separated from her two children, facing charges of bigamy and adultery.
Just before her return to Sydney, she spoke to Channel 7’s Sunday Night program about her ordeal.
Issa’s story broke in July, when news outlets reported that Issa had taken a trip to Lebanon to get away from a messy divorce. But her family alleges that she secretly married her new lover, Mohammad Awick, while in Lebanon.
At the time, her two young sons were at home with her first husband, a furniture designer.
Issa’s first husband, Bassem Abou Lokmeh, registered their marriage in Lebanon two weeks prior to Issa’s trip and told authorities that she was there to get married to another man. This led to Lebanese domestic security issuing a court order which prohibited Issa from leaving the country.
Issa and Awick then had to go into hiding in Lebanon, on the run from authorities.
Last night, Sunday Night aired an exclusive interview with Issa, filmed in a safe house in Beirut – to explain her situation.
Issa told Sunday Night that she married Lokmeh at age of 20, and had two children. As their relationship deteriorated, she became separated from Lokmeh in September and met Awick through his sister. They spoke on the phone and through Facebook.
She alleges, her husband and family would not allow her to divorce her first husband. She filed for divorce in May and her family disowned her. After this, Issa left to visit Awick in Lebanon.
While there, she says her first husband used Sharia law to insist that she was committing a crime:
“My crime here under Sharia Law is adultery. It is jail and I could be put away for two years, three years, no one knows. There are cases like mine, two or three cases, [every] week,” Mahassen told Sunday Night.
“This is why we have kept running.”
According to Issa, she and Awick staged a commitment ceremony in order to be seen as a couple in the north of Lebanon, which is extremely conservative:
Issa told Sunday Night that her family publicly shamed her upon hearing about the ceremony. A stop-order was filed with Lokmeh’s name on it, signifiying that he had been the one to put out the warrant.
Issa also claims she was shot at by “bounty hunters” and told Sunday Night that she is having to hide out in Awick’s family apartment in Tripoli. Although she travelled to Lebanon on her Australian passport, Issa said they were doing nothing to help:
“They said ‘we can’t do anything’. They said ‘if you do go to jail, we’ll see you and provide you with consular assistance while in jail’.”
Issa continues to maintain that she did nothing wrong:
“It was a ceremony, there was no wedding.”
“Religiously under Sharia Law [Bassem] had divorced me. Under Islamic laws in Sydney he had divorced me so technically speaking I was divorced, but my family deny this.”
She also alleges her husband changed the locks on her home, removed all of her belongings and rented it out while she was in Lebanon. She believes she paid the ultimate price – missing her children.
According to Issa, he has now allegedly dropped the stop-order in exchange for money. Issa has since returned to Sydney and appeared in Bankstown local court earlier this month in regards to an AVO matter – however, it is unknown as to when exactly she arrived back in Australia.
What do you think of Issa’s situation?