CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian appeals court on Monday convicted a doctor of manslaughter and performing female genital mutilation that led to the death of a 13-year-old girl, sentencing him to two years and three months in prison in the country's first case that came to trial over the widespread practice, defense lawyers said.
The doctor, Raslan Fadl, was initially acquitted of the 2013 death of Sohair el-Batea in a village in the Nile Delta province of Dakahliya. He was not present in court Monday and his whereabouts were unknown.
Monday's verdict was "a triumph for women," said lawyer Reda el-Danbouki, who represented the deceased. Egypt has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation in the world and criminalized the practice in 2008, but it remains widespread.
"I am really happy," el-Danbouki told The Associated Press following the ruling. "Here is a judge that understands."
The lawyer said the court also fined Fadl $70 and ordered his clinic closed for a year, and handed el-Batea's father a three-month suspended sentence for complicity in subjecting his daughter to the procedure.
Rights advocates said the ruling could serve as a deterrent for doctors and families against the practice. The trial was the first in Egypt on charges of breaking the 2008 ban on the practice. The case came to trial only after significant pressure from rights groups.
The U.N. Children's Fund hailed the ruling as reflecting the willingness of Egyptian authorities to enforce legislation that criminalizes the harmful practice.
"The verdict is a precedent and sends out a strong signal that FGM, which still affects the lives of so many girls each year, is no longer to be tolerated," UNICEF representative in Egypt, Phillipe Duamelle, said in a text message to the AP.
More than 90 percent of women in Egypt are estimated to have undergone female genital mutilation. International women rights group Equality Now said in an email that almost one in four survivors of female genital mutilation in the world is from Egypt.
"It is fantastic news that Sohair has finally been given justice. This is a monumental victory for women and girls in Egypt," said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, the Middle East and North African consultant for Equality Now.
"The country has shown that it will implement its laws and we hope that this is the first step toward ending this extreme form of violence against women once and for all," Abu-Dayyeh added.
The practice generally involves the cutting off of all or part of the clitoris and sometimes the labia. It is performed on both Muslims and Christians and is believed to control a young woman's sexual appetite.
It is practiced in 29 countries, mostly in East and West Africa, but also in Iraq and Yemen. Rights groups see it as a way to control female sexuality that causes physical and psychological damage.
Despite the trial, Fadl had continued to work in his clinic. An employee who answered a call to his center Monday said she had no information on the ruling and declined to discuss Fadl's whereabouts. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk to media.