After seven months in jail, a doctor charged with cutting the genitals of numerous minor girls as part of a religious tradition was freed Tuesday after 16 of her friends offered more than $4.5 million in property to secure her release.
While it’s been two months since U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman agreed to grant bond to Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, she wasn’t released until Tuesday as it took weeks for prosecutors to verify the friends’ assets and confirm their worth. Of the 16 friends, 14 of them showed up in person in court Tuesday and vowed to post the $4.5 million bond should Nagarwala flee pending trial.
That’s the largest unsecured bond in the history of Detroit’s federal court, where Nagarwala, 44, and seven other defendants — including four mothers — are accused of subjecting minor girls belonging to a small Muslim sect to genital cutting procedures over a 12 year period.
“Dr. Nagarwala is looking forward to spending time with her family and children over the next few days. After being jailed since April, today brought tremendous relief to her and her family,” Nagarwala’s lawyer, Shannon Smith, told the Free Press.
Nagarwala was released over the objection of prosecutors, who claim she may have subjected as many as 100 girls to genital cutting. They have argued that Nagarwala has both the resources and motive to flee: She lost her job, could lose her parental rights and faces up to life in prison. Releasing her on bond could also give her more time to silence witnesses in the case, prosecutors have argued, claiming Nagarwala has already told members of her religious community to “deny everything” if investigators ask about genital cutting procedures.
Nagarwala has been ordered to wear a tether, surrender her passport and post her Northville home as security while she lives in a hotel with her father, who will watch over her. She is only allowed supervised visits with her two minor children, who live in their home with their father — two hours a day on weekdays and five hours a day on weekends.
The defense has claimed that the government is overstating its case and that Nagarwala and her co-defendants were engaging in a religious procedure that involved no harm. The case involves eight defendants — including two doctors, a physician’s wife and four mothers — who are accused of participating in various degrees of subjecting young girls to genital cutting as part of a religious practice.
All defendants are members of the Dawoodi Bohra — a small Indian Muslim sect with a mosque in Farmington Hills that practices female circumcision and believes it is a religious rite of passage that involves only a minor “nick.”
The lead defendant is Nagarwala, a now-fired emergency room physician at Henry Ford, who is charged with performing the procedure on six girls at a Livonia clinic. Two of the girls are from Minnesota; four from Michigan. The clinic owner and his wife have also been charged.
Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, 53, of Farmington Hills, is accused of letting Nagarwala use his clinic to perform genital cutting procedures on minor girls; and his wife, Farida Attar, 50, is accused of holding the girls’ hands during the procedure to keep them from squirming and to calm them.
Four mothers also have been charged in the case, accused of putting their daughters in harm’s way by letting Nagarwala cut their genitals as part of a religious procedure.
Especially egregious, authorities have argued, is that this procedure was carried out by a doctor who took an oath to do no harm.
“She knew that this was illegal, but did it, anyway,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward has said of Nagarwala, stressing: “As a medical doctor, she is aware that female genital mutilation has no medical purpose.”
The case is set to go to trial in June.
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