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Tunisian Court Delays Custody Judgment

Local mother fighting for children taken to Tunisia against U.S. custody orders must wait until September for next chance to bring them home

A Tunisian court has delayed judgment until Sept. 18 on a case that will determine whether 6-year-old Eslam Chebbi and his 3-year-old sister Zainab, both Oakton schoolchildren, would return to the U.S. with their mother.

A judge determined a copy of the Tunisian birth certificate for Faical Chebbi, the children's father, is necessary before a ruling could be made.

"This is an easily obtained document that even I could deliver to the court within an hour from the municipal building downtown," Édeanna Johnson-Chebbi, the children's mother and Chebbi's ex-wife, wrote in an email to supporters Thursday. "[My lawyer] says this is a good sign because it shows that the judge had absolutely no reason to deny the case, so opted to delay judgement instead. Whether this is due to bribery or patriotism is unknown. It is clear, however, that it is an abuse of the power of the judiciary to delay the judgment."

Last November, Faical Chebbi, the children's father, violated custody orders in the U.S. and , his home country. against him, and the on Wednesday. Chebbi has also been listed on the wanted list for Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization.

Despite an initial hesitance to travel to Tunisia to regain custody of her children, Johnson-Chebbi found it necessary to work from the North African country to work through its legal system and to visit with her children. She has been in Tunisia since Jan. 18.

A page about child custody in Tunisia on the U.S. State Department website says while a parent can request that a foreign child custody order — such as one from the U.S. — be recognized in Tunisia, enforcement of it "will result only if the custody order conforms with Tunisian child custody law."

Before being taken to Tunisia, the children attended schools in Oakton — Eslam, now 6, at  and Zainab, now 3, at , both on Hunter Mill Road. They resided in Fairfax with their mother.

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