Court Expected to Send Runaway Teen Home Despite Muslim Honor Killing Fears
Friday , August 21, 2009
By Joshua Rhett Miller
A 17-year-old girl who fled to Florida after converting from Islam to Christianity will almost certainly be forced to return home to Ohio, experts say, despite her fears that she will become the victim of an honor killing for abandoning her parents’ faith.
Rifqa Bary, who hitchhiked to an Ohio bus station earlier this month and took a charter bus to Orlando, remains in protective custody with Florida’s Department of Children and Families. A judge is expected to rule Friday on the jurisdiction of the case, but several legal experts contacted by FOXNews.com say the girl is bound to be sent back to Ohio.
“She’ll be returned to the original jurisdiction,” said Katherine Hunt Federle, professor of law and director of the Justice for Children Project at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law.
“She probably doesn’t have a lot of options other than to return home.”
Bary, a native of Sri Lanka who turned 17 earlier this month, is neither a U.S. citizen nor a resident of Florida, so if her parents want her returned to their home in New Albany, Ohio, that likely will occur, experts said.
“She’s living and residing in Ohio,” Federle said. “Typically, what happens is, if a child runs away and goes to another jurisdiction, she’ll be returned to the original jurisdiction.”
If she is sent back to Ohio, Bary will not be allowed to live on her own, since the state does not have an emancipation statute.
Florida has such a statute, but it requires parental consent, according to Fred Silberberg, a family law expert based in California who is familiar with the case.
Given that legal hurdle, Bary likely will be returned to Ohio, where authorities could intervene if they believe there is a threat or a basis to act, Silberberg said.
Rifqa fled to Florida after her parents, Mohamed and Aysha Bary, learned that she was baptized earlier this year without their knowledge. The parents reported her missing to Columbus Police on July 19. Weeks later, using cell phone and computer records, police tracked the girl to the Rev. Blake Lorenz, pastor of the Orlando-based Global Revolution Church. FOXNews.com’s calls to Lorenz were not returned.
In an emotional six-minute interview with WFTV in Florida, Rifqa, who met Lorenz through an online Facebook group, said she expects to be killed if she is forced to return to Ohio.
“If I had stayed in Ohio, I wouldn’t be alive,” she said. “In 150 generations in family, no one has known Jesus. I am the first — imagine the honor in killing me.
“There is great honor in that, because if they love Allah more than me, they have to do it. It’s in the Koran,” said in the interview, which has been posted on YouTube.
Rifqa, who is seen wearing a large diamond cross during the interview, said she had to hide her Bible “for years,” and she repeatedly “snuck out” to attend Christian prayer meetings. She referred to previous victims of so-called honor killings, in which young Muslim women were murdered for bringing dishonor to their families.
“They love God more than me, they have to do this,” Bary told WFTV. “I’m fighting for my life. You guys don’t understand. … I want to worship Jesus freely, that’s what I want. I don’t want to die.”
Contacted by FOXNews.com, Mohamed Bary said he has no intentions of harming his daughter.
“I love my daughter and I want her to come back to the family,” he said, declining further comment.
The Barys reportedly emigrated from Sri Lanka in 2000 to seek medical treatment for Rifqa, who lost the sight in her right eye following an accident at home.
Barbra Joyner, Mohamed Bary’s lawyer, declined to comment on Rifqa’s interview with WFTV but said transferring the case back to Ohio will be in the “best interest” of the girl.
Craig McCarthy, an attorney for Aysha Bary, agreed that the case should be moved back to Ohio and added that the girl’s mother is afraid for her safety.
“[Aysha Bary] has shifted to downright frightened, scared of what might confront her publicly on Friday,” McCarthy told FOXNews.com. “She is scared for her family, of losing her daughter, of never knowing the truth of what happened and for her own safety.”
McCarthy said Rifqa’s account of how she traveled to Florida has “holes in it,” but declined to elaborate. He also declined to respond to allegations that Bary’s father abused the girl when he learned of her conversion to Christianity.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler, an author and professor of psychology at the Richmond College of the City University of New York, said she believes Bary will be in danger if she is sent back to her parents.
“Anyone who converts from Islam is considered an apostate, and apostasy is a capital crime,” Chesler wrote FOXNews.com. “If she is returned to her family, if she is lucky, they will isolate her, beat her, threaten her, and if she is not ‘persuaded’ to return to Islam, they will kill her. They have no choice.”
Chesler, who wrote “Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?” for Middle East Quarterly, said the tradition of such slayings is not fully understood by most Americans, including those in law enforcement.
“She escaped from her family’s brutal tyranny and shamed her family further through public exposure,” Chesler said. “Muslim girls and women are killed for far less.”