MONTREAL - A Quebec woman who says she's being held against her will by her husband in Saudi Arabia has received the support of Human Rights Watch.

Nathalie Morin, 26, says her husband, Said Ramthi Al Bishi, won't let her leave Saudi Arabia with her three children, all of whom are Canadian citizens.

Under Saudi law, separated or divorced mothers may live with the children, but fathers have sole legal custody.

Now, the reputed international human rights watchdog has agreed to take on her cause in an effort to pressure the Saudi government to allow Morin to leave the country.

Morin told CTV News in April that she and her three children are held captive indoors, deprived of food and beaten. A medical report says her eldest son, Samir, is sick, anxious and developmentally delayed.

Morin's mother, Johanne Durocher, said the news is encouraging.

"It's a very hard situation for Nathalie, and a very hard situation for me, too," Durocher told CTV Montreal at her Longueuil home Sunday. "The fact Human Rights Watch is taking the case gives me hope. I hope the Saudi government will take a larger role in the situation to help Nathalie and the three children."

Durocher has been campaigning the federal government for years to pressure the Saudi government, but Ottawa's stance has been that they cannot question the laws of a foreign country.

Opposition MPs say the Morin case is among many examples of the Conservative government's failure to protect Canadians who are in trouble overseas.

But Consular officials maintain they can't do anything because Morin needs her husband's permission to take the children outside of Saudi Arabia.