After five months in jail, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, the Detroit-area Muslim doctor accused of mutilating the genitalia of "countless" young girls, was released on a $4.5 million unsecured property bond Tuesday.
"I was there in the courtroom. I saw it all," said Elizabeth Yore, an international child-welfare advocate and leader of the #EndFGMToday initiative.
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Yore said Dr. Nagarwala, 44, appeared Tuesday before Judge Bernard Friedman in an orange jumpsuit, her head covered by a hijab or Muslim headscarf. She remained silent during the entire pretrial detention hearing.
By the end, the doctor flashed a brief smile when she was told by the judge she would be released from jail pending her trial, which will likely occur in 2018. She then wept, which her attorney called "tears of joy."
Until Tuesday, Nagarwala had been the only one of eight defendants in the nation's first FGM case being held without bond.
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FGM has been banned by 25 states and a federal law against the procedure, called "female circumcision" in Middle Eastern cultures, has been in place since 1996. But the U.S. Department of Justice under Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama failed to prosecute a single case under the federal law, even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that upward of 513,000 American girls and women have either had the practice done or are at risk of being mutilated by rogue doctors, nurses and midwives.
Yore said all those fighting to remove FGM from American society were disappointed with the judge's decision, because Nagarwala served as the "hub of a FGM network" that was abusing young girls, and she also poses an extreme flight risk. Federal prosecutors had argued for no bond in her case.
"Dr. Nagarwala serves as the main defendant and the central hub of this particular FGM underground network," Yore said. "As such, she poses a danger to society and a grave flight risk.
"While the facts of this case will be horrifying for these little girls to relive, the shocking details that will emerge from Dr. Nagarwala’s upcoming trial will raise awareness about the barbaric practice of FGM.”
Nagarwala has been in prison since she was arrested in April at Detroit International Airport trying to board a flight to Kenya. That alone, along with her wealth and connections in India and Africa, makes her a flight risk.
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But her lawyers agreed to multiple conditions to win her release after "friends and family" helped her pony up $4.5 million in real estate in multiple states. At least $2.5 million worth of assets were put up by the doctor herself.
She will remain in home detention until her trial, will have an ankle monitor and will surrender her passport.
"The judge seemed to buy that but having had experience with international child abduction, and Muslim fathers trying to flee with their abducted American children and having heard judges say 'give me your passport' and yet off they go, I'm still skeptical," said Yore, who has represented hundreds of American women trying to get their children back from fathers who whisk them off to countries in the Middle East and Africa.
Nagarwala is charged with conspiracy, genital mutilation, transporting minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, lying to FBI agents and obstructing an official proceeding. If convicted, she could face up to life in prison.
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Nagarwala is one of eight defendants in the growing federal case, the first of its kind in the United States. The defendants now include two doctors, a doctor's wife and assistant, and two mothers who willingly turned their 7-year-old daughters over to Nagarwala to have their genitalia cut and removed. The genital parts were then allegedly given to the parents to be buried in a ritualistic ceremony practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra, a sect of Shia Islam based in western India. The sect operates 22 mosques across the United States.
Some critics have decried the "misleading" reports of Detroit newspapers, which have portrayed female genital mutilation as practiced by a single, isolated sect of Islam, the Dawoodi Bohra, despite evidence it is embedded within Shariah rules for living and widely practiced within the mainstream Sunni Muslim cultures of Egypt, Indonesia, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and other countries.
"When I look at this case, I see that even journalists writing about the situation are trying to paint this as a certain sect of Islam, and not a general Islamic problem, with no proof whatsoever of what they are saying," said Dr. Mark Christian, a physician and former Sunni Muslim who practiced gynecology in Egypt but later converted to Christianity and moved to America.
"Dr. Nagarwala and this group of Shia Muslims, all of them working together as a Muslim enclave in Detroit, appear to have operated a clinic that provides Shariah-compliant OB-GYN services, and the media and everyone is trying their best to paint this as if it is not a Muslim problem at large but just a single sect," Dr. Christian said. "This is a very sad situation where fear of offending Islam is overriding everything among those trying to abide by what's politically correct. I thought in America everyone had the right to voice their opinion and speak the full truth."
Christian said that if such a barbaric practice were occurring within a sect of Christianity, the reaction from the media would be far different, and the defendant would likely not be offered bond of any amount.
"If this had happened in a church or any other religious group other than Islam, it would be Armageddon on that group, but because of the fear of Islam nobody can challenge it whatsoever," Dr. Christian said. "When you are dealing with the First Amendment, yes we have to respect that, but at the same time, it's not a free hand to do whatever you want to harm any human being, and we should challenge Islam on those grounds.
"We should appreciate the freedom of religion and cleanse our society of any practice that harms human beings, especially young girls who haven't even reached puberty, denying them their identity and denying them heir womanhood."
All eight defendants are now lawyered up with their own separate attorneys.
Judge Friedman also forbade them from using the Internet, but granted exceptions for an upcoming period of holy days.
"They asked for a special exception to go on the Internet to watch sermons for a special holy day," Yore said. "The judge asked how long does the sermon take, and they said 10 days."
Friedman, a Reagan appointee, "bent over backward" to accommodate, Yore said.
Based on previous statements from her attorney, Nagarwala's defense team appears to be ready to base its entire defense on her simply exercising her First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
"They say they should be able to do what they want with respect to their religion," Yore said. "Well, did we give a pass to David Koresh [of Branch Davidians], Jim Jones [of Jonestown] or Warren Jeffs [Mormon sect] to practice child abuse in the name of their region? No, we laughed at it, we scoffed at it, and we should be doing the same thing in this case."
Special rights for practicing Islam?
If the defense's argument continues to be religious freedom, it may appear as though Islam is looking for special rights not available to other religions in the United States.
"No one gets a free pass to abuse children in the name of religion, and that includes parents," Yore said. "These prosecutors, I'm pretty impressed with how tough they are, to prosecute parents that's pretty darn tough. I think they want to send a message that it's not just the doctor mutilators, it's the parents who are involved in this underground network who also are being put on notice."
Nagarwala has been practicing for at least 12 years.
"This is an underground network that has been hiding from the government for 12 years," Yore said. "It's a parallel society that has formed and, but for this case, nobody would believe this was going on in the United States."
There are 22 Dawoodi Nohra mosques in the U.S. "And FGM is promoted and expected in these mosques. This is what they call 'purity for women,'" Yore said.
In Michigan, most members of the sect belong to the Anjuman-e-Najmi mosque in Farmington Hills.
"This case is growing big time, and largely because the Department of Justice is being very aggressive in identifying victims and going after the mutilators and charging them along with the parents," Yore said.
"The question, one of the many, is what role did the mosque play in facilitating, aiding and abetting?" she added. "Were costs paid, what arrangements were made with Dr. Nagarwala?"
Federal prosecutors have estimated at least 100 girls have been mutilated by this one network in Michigan, and that parents from out of state brought their girls to Nagarwala and another male doctor from as far away as Chicago, New York, Minnesota and Los Angeles.
"This is like human trafficking, and unless we get victims to come forward, or start putting heat on these mosques, set up 24-hour hotlines and mandate reporting by social workers, it's not going to break the case open," Yore said.
She believes the government should "go right to the heart of it – the religious-freedom argument."
"In the United States, we draw the line at children being abused," Yore said. "It doesn't matter if it's the Catholic Church, an obscure sect of Mormonism or a mosque. The government is going to step in to protect children who have been abused. And we don't care who the parents are, what their religion is or how much money they have. The state has to make the determination that a child's welfare supersedes all of that."
Half of the 50 states have no laws against FGM
Michigan has passed its own state law banning FGM in the wake of the arrests, which shocked residents of almost all backgrounds and faiths.
The states of Minnesota and Maine have also tried, unsuccessfully, to join the list of 25 states that have laws against FGM. State lawmakers, mostly Democrats, in those states have said they are against FGM but want to be "culturally sensitive" when trying to eliminate the practice.
"I have seen every type of child abuse, and FGM is up there with the most cruel I have ever seen," Yore told WND. "This is hideous, and what do they do? They rationalize, the minimize, say it didn’t happen or, if it did, it's just a little nick, or it's no different than male circumcision."
The procedures were benign and legal, defense lawyers have argued.
Prosecutors say that's a lie.
"Their pants and underwear were removed ... and Dr. Nagarwala approached with a sharp tool to cut their genitals," assistant U.S. attorney Sara Woodward said during an earlier court hearing.
"We just have to attack each one of those lies, without fear of being called a hater or Islamophobe. If we don't draw the line at FGM, are we going to draw it at child marriages? Honor killings? Where do we draw the line that children aren't going to be abused on the basis of religious freedom? If you want to live here, you can't come and draw up rules for living based on ancient barbaric laws."
Yore gives kudos to Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his tenacity on this issue.
"The Bush administration didn't touch this, and we know the Obama administration wouldn't touch it. They closed their eyes to it."