SYDNEY’S close-knit Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community is starkly divided over allegations of female genital mutilation made against some of its members, a court has heard, with debate raging in the community’s online chat forums.
The revelations came during a failed attempt by a sheikh and a retired nurse from the community, who have been charged over the genital mutilation of two young girls, to have their names kept from the public.
Sheikh Shabbir Mohammedbhai Vaziri, 56, and Helen Magennis, 68, have been charged over the genital mutilation of a six-year-old girl and seven-year-old girl in separate incidents between October 2010 and July this year.
Police say Ms Magennis carried out the procedures on the two girls in suburban homes in Wollongong and Baulkham Hills while Sheikh Vaziri was allegedly an accessory – harbouring, maintaining and assisting those involved.
It is also alleged the sheikh later instructed members of the Dawoodi Bohra community to lie to police about what had happened.
Six other members of the community, including the parents of the girls, are also facing charges over the alleged mutilations.
In overturning a suppression order on Sheikh Vaziri’s name and refusing to grant one for Ms Magennis on Thursday, magistrate Brian van Zuylen said there was much debate in the Dawoodi Bohra community about genital mutilation practices.
”From the [police] statement of facts there appears to be very different views from members of the community participating in chat forums,” he said
”Some seem to be supporting the procedures while other, more moderate members are vehemently opposed.”
The lawyer for Ms Magennis, Elee Georges, said he had received instructions the ”whole community is against” the practices. He also said he didn’t expect the matter to go to trial because the medical evidence against his client was weak.
”The medical evidence, at its highest, is unable to confirm or deny [that the procedures took place],” he said.
Mr Georges and the lawyer for Sheikh Vaziri, David Randle, argued the publication of their clients’ names would prevent the defendants from getting a fair trial, and could lead to the identification of the two alleged victims.
But Mr Van Zuylen rejected the arguments, noting the public interest in open justice.
”The court isn’t convinced that identifying these people would lead to an inevitable tracing back and identifying of the [alleged] victims,” he said.
”Nor would it prevent the proper administration of justice or interfere with the opportunity for a fair trial.”
Mr Georges also said his client was suffering from a number of medical problems, including type II diabetes and osteoarthritis, and that continuing publicity of her role in the case would cause ”ongoing, significant undue distress”.
He said Ms Magennis’s husband had received a threatening letter following publication of the alleged crime, and she had been harassed by the media.
”She’s had people coming to her door … knocking on her back window,” Mr Georges said.
All eight members of the community charged in relation to the genital mutilations will re-appear in court in February next year.