ETHIOPIA: Khalid Ahmed - From Addis Ababa to a Prison Cell in Gwinnett County

The Reporter (Addis Ababa)
November 20, 2006
Posted to the web November 20, 2006

In a late afternoon, on Nov 2, 2006, in Atlanta, Georgia, a 10-year sentence was passed on Khalid Adem, who was found guilty of a criminal act.

The trial took 10 days and culminated in the conviction and sentencing of the defendant to 2 terms of 15 years to be served concurrently, the first 10 in prison and the next 5 on probation for aggravated battery and cruelty to children.

The case received huge media coverage in Georgia and all over America since Khalid was apprehended on March 28, 2003. This case also got huge coverage in Ethiopia and the rest of the world after the sentencing. Most media outlets in Ethiopia covered this case in the footsteps of American and other media with little investigation on their own.

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Khalid Adem went to America when he was 16 years old. Fortunate Dubay, born in South Africa, also went to America when she was 6 years old. Both met each other at the Georgia Perimeter College in Clarkston, Georgia. They got married on August 10, 1997 at the Crown hotel in Addis Ababa in the presence of their parents and family. The couple then went back to America and gave birth to their daughter on Sept 8, 1999.

The marriage started to crumble a year before the alleged circumcision took place in 2000. Unable to resolve their differences, the couple went to court for a divorce. The divorce case was not finalized until August 2003 due the long-drawn-out custody battle for the daughter.

The circumcision of the daughter, which led to the arrest and then sentencing of the father, is believed to have taken place in 2001 while the couples were fighting in court to get a divorce. Although the case was finalized in August 2003 after Khalid's arrest on March 28, 2003, the divorce case preceded the criminal case by a year.

Georgia, like every other in state in America, didn't have a law that makes circumcision a criminal act until May 2005. Khalid Adem was charged with a previous law that makes the act aggravated battery and cruelty to children.

According to the charges pressed by the district attorney and the now ex-wife Fortunate, the father committed the act with a scissor on September 2001 with an unidentified accomplice. Fortunate claimed she did not discover her daughter's circumcision until an argument with her husband in 2003 about the practice, during which, according to Fortunate, Khalid Adem implied it had already occurred to their daughter. Fortunate claimed that the father said that he wanted to have his daughter circumcised and that he and his family would be shamed otherwise. On her refusal, Khalid said what is done is done and there is nothing she can do about it. The mother then took the daughter to a doctor who confirmed that the daughter was indeed circumcised, which led her to go to the police. Khalid was arrested on suspicion of aggravated battery and cruelty to a child on March 28, 2003 and released on 50,000 dollar bail four days later.

Almost a year after his arrest and divorce, Khalid was charged with aggravated battery and cruelty to a child on February 2004. The trial then took 10 days starting October 23, 2006. During the period between Khalids arrest and his sentencing, there were major events taking place related to the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM).

1) Equality Now, a non-governmental organization with office all over the world which fights for and protects female equality, moved their previously scheduled worldwide conference on female genital mutilation from Nairobi, Kenya, to Atlanta, Georgia. This conference, which took place three months after Khalid's arrest, had his case as its central topic. At the time, the director of Equality Now stressed that his organization would closely follow this first documented case and will work to make this an eye-opener for female genital mutilation.

2) Besides the campaign by Equality Now, after Khalid's arrest, Representative Mary Margaret Oliver in cooperation with Fortunate Adem, was able to get a law passed specifically outlawing female genital cutting in the state of Georgia, which was enacted in 2005. Khalid Adem was, however, not tried under this law, as his actions occurred before it went into effect.

3) The involvement of Soraya Mire, who became famous for her film titled "Fire Eyes", based on her circumcision when she was 13, was invited to counsel the daughter at the request of officials in Gwinnett County. Comments like "she hugged me and I burst in tears" and "since that day, I have been obsessed with finding out who did this to that child" by Soraya headlined the news whenever the case was mentioned in different media.

Such coverage and comments made the case about female genital mutilation and its consequences rather than finding out whether the father committed the act and proving it beyond a reasonable doubt as the court system requires.

The medical evidence establishes that the daughter was circumcised for no apparent medical reason which was not contested by the defense. The district attorney presented as evidence a 45-minute videotape of the daughter therapists, physical testimony of the now 7-year old daughter, different experts and the mother.

In the taped testimony of the daughter, she showed the place her father had "hurt" her by using her doll. She also repeated the testimony in court. The mother, in her testimony, said the father told her he committed the act and later had it confirmed by doctors.

The defense then pointed out the lack of emotion in the daughter on both the taped and physical testimonies claiming that the testimony was rehearsed and nothing but false memory. The defense claimed the fact that no one can identify the person who committed the act with Khalid as the D.A. claimed and the long-drawn-out custody battle for the daughter makes all a plot to not let the father see his daughter.

Kahlid, when he took the stand, said that he has never entertained the idea of circumcising his daughter. He said that he would never consider not being circumcised as being shameful to him or his family as none of his 10 to 14-year-old sisters is circumcised. The defense presented medical evidence stating none of the sisters has signs or evidence of circumcision. Attempts to have the sisters fly to the U.S and testify at the trial failed due to the refusal of entry visa by the American Embassy in Ethiopia.

The jury, after hearing both sides for ten days, found the defendant Khalid Ahmed guilty as charged after three hours of deliberation. The defense since has appealed the decision. But the questions remain: Was the trail judged purely on the facts? Did the media fanfare and voices of prominent organization and individuals contaminate the issue and the jury?

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