Female genital mutilation: Muslim sect leader sent to jail in legal U-turn

The leader of a Muslim sect has become the first person to be jailed in Australia over female genital mutilation, a Supreme Court Justice saying a strong message had to be sent to other religious heads that the practise would not be tolerated.

In a surprise reversal of his original sentencing intentions Justice Peter Johnson this morning jailed Shabbir Mohammedbhai Vaziri, 59, the leader of the sect called Dawoodi Bohra to at least 11 months’ jail for his part in trying to cover up the female genital mutilation of two sisters when they were aged six and seven.

The girls’ mother, 39, who can’t be named to protect the sisters’ identities, was sentenced to at least 11 months’ home detention for arranging her daughters to have their clitorises cut on two different occasions in Wollongong and in Sydney between October 2009 and August 2012.

The former midwife who carried out the procedure, Kubra Magennis, 72, was also sentenced to at least 11 months’ home detention.

Justice Johnson originally sentenced Vaziri in March to 11 months’ home detention for trying to thwart the police investigation by telling his followers to deny they practised FGM.

That home detention was delayed until Vaziri could be assessed to ensure he was a suitable candidate to serve his sentence in the community.

But Justice Johnson changed his mind and jailed Vaziri following a sermon by the religious sect’s world leader in India, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, in which he appeared to tell followers they should continue the practise of FGM known as “khatna”.

In what appeared to be a direct rebuke to that, Justice Johnson said that he expected “a strong message should be sent to male Dawoodi Bohra religious leaders that criminal acts such as those committed by the offender Mr Vaziri for the purposes of covering up the performance of khatna and deflect a police investigation of FGM offences ought to be met by sentences of full-time imprisonment.

“The same strong message should be sent to leaders of other communities where FGM is practised that if they become liable as an accessory after the fact to Section 45 offences by way of covering up or deflecting police investigations, they too will be met by stern punishment.”

Vaziri showed no emotion as he was handcuffed and led to the cells.

Vaziri, Magennis and the girl’s mother fought the charges but were convicted by a Supreme Court jury last year in the first successful prosecution for FGM in Australia.

After their conviction last year the Dawoodi Bohra world headquarters in India sent out edicts to followers in all countries were FGM is illegal telling them to stop practising khatna.

But in India, where FGM is not illegal, the Syedna gave a sermon in April where he appeared to support the sect’s centuries-old practise of khatna.

This week he clarified his position, telling his Indian followers that they must perform khatna on their daughters, saying it was a “religious obligation” and an act of “religious purity.”