Middle East

FGM in Egypt: Doctor and father cleared in landmark trial

Suhair al Bataa, picture courtesy of Al Masry Al Youm Image copyright Al-Masry Al-Youm
Image caption Suhair was a gifted 13-year-old when she died after allegedly undergoing female genital mutilation

The doctor and father of a 13-year-old girl who died after allegedly undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) have been acquitted in a landmark trial in Egypt.

Doctor Raslan Fadl was cleared of all charges alongside the father of Suhair al-Bataa, a lawyer in the case said.

Suhair died in June 2013. Her doctor denied carrying out FGM on her, and blamed her death on an allergy.

The practice of FGM was banned in Egypt in 2008 but is still widespread.

More than 90% of Egyptian women aged under 50 have experienced it, according to government statistics.

Analysis: Orla Guerin, BBC News, Cairo

Campaigners against FGM - in Egypt and abroad - hoped this prosecution would serve as a deterrent. They pushed hard to get the authorities to bring the case, and hoped to see jail terms handed down. The legislation banning FGM in Egypt allows for sentences of up to two years.

After both defendants were acquitted, activists said the case would put more girls at risk.

"The verdict is disappointing and it's a problem," said Manal Fawzy, of the Childhood and Development Association, an NGO campaigning against FGM in southern Egypt. "Now it will be easy for any doctor to perform such surgeries."

The verdict was issued in written form by a judge who did not give his reasons. Activists say most cases of FGM never even get to court and the illegal practice continues around the country.

On Twitter, the prominent Egyptian feminist and commentator Mona Eltahawy said the verdict was "a disgrace", coming as it did on the 25th anniversary of the signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This was the first time a prosecution relating to FGM had been brought to trial.

Women's rights activists, who saw the trial as a significant step forward, expressed dismay at Thursday's verdict.

"It is awful that after what seemed to be strong moves towards a positive outcome, Suhair has not been given justice," said Suad Abu Dayyeh, a representative for the NGO Equality Now, which pressed for the trial to be brought.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Suhair al-Bataa is buried on the outskirts of the Nile Delta city of Mansoura

"We can only hope that the strong commitment by the Egyptian government to finally take FGM seriously will result in further moves in the right direction and we will now discuss next steps with the local lawyers."

Prosecutors alleged that Suhair al-Bataa, who lived in small farming community on the outskirts of the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, died after being forced to undergo FGM by her father.

However, her doctor said the cause of death was an allergy to penicillin.

The judge in the Nile Delta town of Aga acquitted both men without giving his reasons.

Correspondents say that while some Egyptians are fighting for the practice to be eradicated, others justify it in the name of religion.

Speaking to the BBC earlier this year, her relatives defended the practice of FGM, and insisted no-one was to blame for her death.

More on this story