DETROIT – A Michigan doctor may be the only doctor on trial for performing female genital mutilation on underage girls in the United States, but she wasn’t the only doctor cutting children, federal prosecutors revealed Thursday .
On the contrary, they said, Dr Jumana Nagarwala was part of a secret network of doctors in a tight-knit Indian community who cut 7-year-old girls across the country for years as part of a religious obligation and of a cultural tradition that had mothers. and girls traveling everywhere for the procedure.
In a courtroom hearing Thursday, the government publicly revealed for the first time that female doctors in California and Illinois were also performing the procedures on underage girls who belonged to their small, known Indian Muslim sect. under the name of Dawoodi Bohras. They also alleged that Nagarwala – the lead accused in the landmark Detroit female genital mutilation case – traveled to the Washington DC area to perform genital mutilation on up to five underage girls.
As Justice Ministry lawyer Amy Markopoulos told a judge, these doctors “were wanted”.
“It was not a low-key, one-off occasion.… It was not arbitrary,” Markopoulos said of FGM practices, noting that “travel is often required to perform the procedure.”
The prosecutor’s comments came during a hearing in which the defense sought to suppress evidence and have the 4-year case dismissed entirely. The defense argues that Nagarwala never harmed any child, but instead performed a benign procedure that only involved “scratching” – not cutting – the girls’ genitals.
Nagarwala and his three co-defendants are all members of the Dawoodi Bohra, which has a mosque in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The sect practices female circumcision and believes that it is a religious rite of passage that involves only a minor “pseudo”.
Nagarwala is accused of performing female genital mutilation on nine underage girls from Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota, some who cried, screamed and bled during the procedure and one who received ground Valium in liquid Tylenol to keep her calm, according to court records.
Prosecutors allege she performed these procedures after hours at a clinic in Livonia, Michigan, which belonged to another doctor, who is also indicted in the case, along with his wife.
Since the case arose in 2017, most charges have been dropped and the federal female genital mutilation law was declared unconstitutional in 2018. The case was due to be tried in April 2019 on a single obstruction charge, but COVID-19 struck and the chase stopped.
This year, much to the dismay of the defense, prosecutors have asked for new charges.
In March, the government released its fourth alternate – or new – indictment which includes five new charges, including conspiracy to make false statements and tampering with witnesses. Prosecutors allege that Nagarwala and her three cohorts lied to the FBI about female genital mutilation taking place in their community, and asked other members of their religious community to do the same if the FBI came to ask questions.
Following: Victims of genital mutilation break the silence: “It’s demonic”
But the defense says the new charges are about revenge, citing the numerous beatings the prosecution has dealt in years past, particularly in 2018, when a judge declared the federal female genital mutilation law unconstitutional and declared dismissed almost all charges.
“The government is acting with extreme vengeance on prosecution by issuing another replacement indictment nearly half a decade after the charges were first laid,” the defense argued in filed documents by the court, calling the latest indictment “retaliation for the defense that successfully decimated the government’s case.”
“The government has engaged in retaliatory prosecution,” defense lawyer Mary Chartier told U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman on Wednesday, adding: “The defense has systematically dismantled the government’s record.”
Friedman, who has declared the ban on female genital mutilation unconstitutional and has previously dismissed all but one of the charges, said he would take the case under advisement and issue an opinion at a later date as to whether he would dismiss the new indictment.
Prosecutors allege nine girls – four from Michigan, two from Minnesota and three from Illinois – suffered female genital mutilation after hours at a clinic in Livonia at the hands of Nagarwala.
His co-defendants include; Dr Fakhruddin Attar, owner of the Livonia clinic where female genital mutilation is said to have taken place; his wife, Farida Attar, accused of being in the room and holding the girls’ hands during the proceedings; and Fatema Dahodwala, the mother of one of the alleged victims.
The prosecution suffered a heavy blow in 2018 when Friedman ruled that federal law banning female genital mutilation was unconstitutional, concluding that Congress did not have the power to regulate the law to begin with. Friedman dismissed the mutilation charges and removed four defendants from the case, which sparked an uproar and sparked a new Michigan law banning female genital mutilation.
“Oh my God, this is crazy,” said Mariya Taher, female genital mutilation survivor and social activist, at the time of Friedman’s decision. “Unfortunately, this will embolden those who believe this should be continued… they will feel that it is permission, that it is OK to do it.”
Taher, of Cambridge, Mass., Who at age 7 went through the same type of religious excision procedure as the one at issue in the Michigan case, said laws alone will not end female genital mutilation , but that they are necessary.
“It’s a violation of a person’s human rights. It’s a form of gender-based violence,” Taher said. “It’s cultural violence.”
Congress has since passed a new, stricter federal law on female genital mutilation, which came into effect in 2020 and called female genital mutilation a “form of child abuse, gender discrimination and violence.” The STOP FGM law of 2020 allows federal authorities to prosecute those who practice or conspire to perform FGM and to increase the maximum prison sentence from five to 10 years.
Friedman’s 2018 ruling also dismissed charges against three mothers, including two women from Minnesota who prosecutors said tricked their 7-year-old daughters into believing they were coming on the Detroit subway for a weekend. between girls, but instead had their genitals cut off in a clinic in Livonia. part of a religious proceeding.
Friedman concluded that “as despicable as this practice may be,” Congress did not have the power to pass the 1996 federal law that criminalizes female genital mutilation and that female genital mutilation is regulated by the states.
The Justice Department did not appeal Friedman’s decision, although federal prosecutors in Michigan sought to revive the case by attacking it from a different angle: accusing the defendants of conspiracy to lie, hide what they have done and intimidate others into doing the same.
While the case involves nine underage girls, prosecutors argued that Nagarwala has subjected up to 100 underage girls to female genital mutilation procedures over a decade, including one girl who shouted, “Could barely walk after the death.” procedure and stated that she felt pain throughout the procedure. the way up to her ankle. ”Another girl said she was ‘pinched’ in the genital area, it ‘hurt a lot’ and there was ‘aches and pains and burning’.
The two girls were told to keep the proceedings a secret, prosecutors wrote in court records.
United States Deputy Prosecutor Sara Woodward has long argued that the defendants knew what they were doing was illegal, but did so anyway, and that Dr Nargarwala “is aware that female genital mutilation does not have no medical purpose “.
Female genital mutilation is banned worldwide and has been banned in more than 30 countries.
Currently, 40 states have laws that criminalize female genital mutilation, including Michigan, whose female genital mutilation law carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Michigan’s female genital mutilation law was passed in 2017 and applies to both doctors who perform the procedure and parents who transport a child to do so.
The defendants in this case cannot be charged retroactively under new federal or state law.
Contact Tresa Baldas at [email protected]