Doctor in genital mutilation case attacks remaining charge

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of Northville outside federal court in Detroit in September.

Detroit — A Northville doctor charged in the nation's first female genital mutilation case tried to get one of the last charges against her dismissed Thursday.

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala wants a judge to dismiss a conspiracy charge involving two 7-year-old Minnesota girls who were brought to Metro Detroit for what prosecutors call an illegal procedure performed by the Northville doctor. The procedure is practiced by some members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a Muslim sect from India that has a small community in Metro Detroit.

The request came nine days after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman dismissed female genital mutilation charges against Nagarwala and others. The judge's order was a significant, but not fatal, blow to a novel criminal case because Friedman left intact conspiracy and obstruction charges that could send Nagarwala and three others to federal prison for decades.

Prosecutors allege Minnesota mothers Haseena Halfal and Zainab Hariyanawala brought their daughters to Detroit in February 2017 to undergo female genital mutilation. Prosecutors say the trip constituted a crime: conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct. 

There was no agreement to commit the crime and no conspiracy, Nagarwala's lawyer Shannon Smith wrote in a court filing Thursday while asking Friedman to dismiss the charge.

"Assuming that the government’s claims are true, Mrs. Halfal and Mrs. Hariyanawala traveled, but they did not engage in illicit sexual conduct with another person," Smith wrote. "Likewise, while Dr. Nagarwala may have engaged in the claimed conduct, she did not travel in interstate commerce. The government cannot merge the conduct of these different individuals to meet the required statutory elements."

The U.S. Attorney's Office opposes the request to dismiss the conspiracy charge. Separately, prosecutors are reviewing the judge's order and will soon decide whether to appeal dismissal of the mutilation charge.

In all, prosecutors say nine prepubescent girls were cut at Dr. Fakhruddin Attar's clinic in Livonia, which was managed by his wife, Dr. Farida Attar, who also is charged in the case. Defense lawyers say the procedure performed on the girls was benign and not female genital mutilation. They accuse the government of overreaching.

Dr. Farida Attar and her husband, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, enter federal court in Detroit in September.

A trial is set for April 2019.

The case is being closely followed by members of the sect and international human-rights groups opposed to female genital mutilation. It also has raised awareness in the U.S. of a controversial procedure and prompted Michigan to enact new laws criminalizing female genital mutilation.

Female genital mutilation is an internationally recognized violation of human rights.

Some members of the Dawoodi Bohra community who have spoken against the procedure say the surgery is performed to suppress female sexuality, reduce sexual pleasure and curb promiscuity, according to court records.

The procedure is most common in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, along with migrants from those regions, says the World Health Organization.

There are four major types of female genital mutilation, including a partial or total removal of the clitoris.

Prosecutors have alleged that two girls’ clitorises were completely removed, but the evidence is lacking for at least one girl, Smith said. 

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