DETROIT – Detroit-area doctor Dr Jumana Nagarwala may be the only doctor on trial for allegedly performing female genital mutilation on underage girls in the United States, but she wasn’t the only doctor to excise children, federal prosecutors revealed Thursday.
On the contrary, they said, Nagarwala was part of a secret network of doctors in a tight-knit Indian community that was cutting 7-year-old girls across the country for years as part of a religious obligation and a cultural tradition that required mothers and daughters to travel. 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 FGM procedures on underage girls who belonged to their small Indian Muslim sect. , known as Dawoodi Bohras. They also alleged that Nagarwala – the main defendant in the landmark Detroit FGM case – traveled to the Washington DC area to perform FGM on up to five underage girls.
Botched murder, insurance fraud conspiracy:Alex Murdaugh turns around: what we know
Department of Justice:DOJ bans federal agents from using chokes, limits no-strike warrants
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 involved only the “scratching” – not excision – of the girls’ genitals.
Nagarwala and his three co-defendants are all members of the Dawoodi Bohra, which owns a mosque in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills. 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 FGM on nine underage girls from Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota, including some who cried, screamed and bled during the procedure and one who received ground Valium in liquid Tylenol for the procedure. keep calm, according to court records. Prosecutors allege she performed these procedures after hours at a Detroit suburban clinic in Livonia that was owned by another doctor, who is also indicted in the case, along with his wife.
Since the case broke in 2017, most charges have been dropped and the federal law on FGM was declared unconstitutional in 2018. The case was due to be tried in April 2019 on a single charge of obstruction, but COVID -19 struck and the chase was halted.
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 FGM taking place in their community, and asked other members of their religious community to do the same if the FBI came to ask questions.
“It’s demonic”: Victims of genital mutilation break the silence
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 FGM law unconstitutional and nearly dismissed. all charges.
“The government is acting with extreme vindictiveness on prosecution by issuing yet 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 US District Judge Bernard Friedman on Wednesday, adding: “The defense has systematically dismantled the government’s record.”
Friedman, who declared the FGM ban unconstitutional and previously dismissed all but one of the charges, said he would take the case under advisement and issue an opinion at a later date on whether he would dismiss it. the new indictment.
Prosecutors allege nine girls – four from Michigan, two from Minnesota and three from Illinois – suffered after-hours FGM at a clinic in Nagarwala’s hands. His co-defendants are: Dr Fakhruddin Attar, owner of the Livonia clinic where the FGM allegedly took 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 the federal law prohibiting FGM 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 FGM.
“Oh my God, this is crazy,” said Mariya Taher, FGM 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 was subjected to the same type of religious excision procedure that is at issue in the Michigan case, said laws alone will not end FGM, 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.”
Friedman’s ruling also dismissed charges against three mothers, including two women from Minnesota who prosecutors say tricked their 7-year-old daughters into believing they were coming on the Detroit subway for a girls’ weekend. , but instead had their genitals cut off in a clinic as part of a religious proceeding.
Friedman concluded that “as despicable as this practice may be” Congress lacked the power to pass the 1996 federal law that criminalizes female genital mutilation, and that FGM 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 subjected up to 100 underage girls to FGM procedures over a decade, including one girl who shouted “could barely walk after the procedure and stated that she felt pain throughout the procedure. up to her ankle. ”Another girl said she had been ‘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.
Deputy US lawyer Sara Woodward has long argued that the defendants knew what they were doing was illegal, but did it anyway, and that Dr Nargarwala “is aware that female genital mutilation has no medical purpose. “.
FGM is banned worldwide and has been banned in more than 30 countries.
Currently, 27 states have laws that criminalize female genital mutilation, including Michigan, whose FGM law is stricter than federal law, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, up from five years. under federal law. Michigan’s FGM 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 the new state law.
Contact Tresa Baldas: email@example.com.