7 Nov 2010

Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement says teen's accusations of abuse and death threats by Muslim parents not true

Columbus Local News - September 17, 2009

FDLE: Teenager's claims are not true

Allegations that Rifqa Bary's father abused her and threatened to kill her were unfounded, investigators with the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement say.


The findings of an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement involving Fathima Rifqa Bary have been unsealed.

The department's report says there's no evidence to support the allegations that the 17-year-old girl has made, including her allegation that her father, Mohamed Bary, threatened her life because she converted from Islam to Christianity.

The report had been sealed by Daniel Dawson, a judge in Florida's 9th Judicial Circuit Court, for 10 days, following a Sept. 3 arraignment. During the recent hearing, her parents, Mohamed and Asyha Bary, denied the allegations that Mohamed Bary threatened his daughter's life.

The New Albany High School student fled from her parents' home on July 20, taking a Greyhound bus to Orlando, Fla. to stay with Blake and Beverly Lorenz, pastors at Global Revolution Church in Orlando.

She reportedly first came in contact with the Lorenz's online.

"We knew we didn't do anything wrong. They (Lorenz's) have brainwashed her," Mohamed Bary said. "We need our daughter back."

In the report, the department said it conducted an interview with the teen to address the allegations, and the report spelled out each one.

First, the teen claimed her father assaulted her when he had allegedly threatened to strike her with a laptop computer.

The incident reportedly happened in June after he had been notified by a friend that a Facebook page had information about the teen's religious conversion.

The department reported that it did not indentify such an assault against her happening Florida, going on to say that the allegation occurred in Ohio, where the department has no jurisdiction.

Checks were made with Ohio law enforcement agencies, according to the report, and "no derogatory information" on Mohamed Bary was revealed.

In interviews with authorities Mohamed Bary denied that he had threatened his daughter.

The report said that he said he had lifted the computer as if he was going to throw it, but had decided not to because he had invested too much money in it to break it.

The teen also alleged she was a victim of aggravated assault -- again, by her father -- because he allegedly said, "I will kill you, tell me the truth."

The conclusion was the same as the first allegation in that the department found "no derogatory information."

Fathima Bary also allegedly said she would become a victim of an "honor killing" because of her religious conversion, a feeling that is based on her belief or understanding of Islamic faith and law.

Other than her father, the teen did not say who else would perform the "honor killing."

The department found "no credible reports or threats" in relation to that allegation in either Florida or Ohio.

In addition, the department did not investigate the Islamic community because, according to the report, "an investigation into any person, religious or social organization without a specific identifiable criminal predicate is inappropriate."

In talking with local, state and federal enforcement in both Columbus and Orlando, investigators were not notified of any identifiable threats, the report said.

The teen also said she had experienced child abuse citing two separate incidents in which her father struck her in the face.

She said the abuse ended while she was in middle school.

The department found no evidence supporting the allegation. Investigators spoke with Jeff Warner, New Albany-Plain Local City School District's director of communications, about the allegation.

The school district "found no evidence of any reporting of abuse or suspected abuse," Warner reportedly told the department, adding that Ohio is a mandatory abuse reporting state.

Mohamed Bary denied ever striking his daughter in an interview with investigators.

As to the teen's conversion, the investigation summary said the teen was baptized in June 2009.

Mohamed Bary said he knew of her conversion in early 2009, but said because she was still under age and living in his house he had wanted her to keep studying and practicing Islam, the report stated.

Bary has previously said if his daughter comes home she will be allowed to study Christianity.

For now, the teen continues to stay with a Central Florida foster home.

All involved parties were ordered into mediation for 30 days, following the arraignment, and a pretrial hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 29.

A gag order has been placed on all attorneys involved in the case.

If the teen is allowed to come back to Ohio, the Barys said they will work with Franklin County Children Services.

The teen could live with a foster family for 30 days, while the entire family receives counseling.

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The Ledger - September 19, 2009

Teen Convert Creates Battle

By Cary McMullen

Family relations are usually complicated enough without outside interference. Imagine what would happen if every argument between you and your teenager were subject to scrutiny by an advocacy group that would take your daughter's side in court.

Now consider the case of Fathima Rifqa Bary.

Bary is a 17-year-old from Westerville, Ohio, near Columbus, whose family are Muslims from Sri Lanka. In July, she ran away with the help of a Christian friend and landed in the Orlando home of Blake and Beverly Lorenz, pastors of an independent church, whom she found via Facebook.

When she was located two weeks later, Bary said she had converted to Christianity against the wishes of her family and claimed her father would kill her as an apostate if she were returned to her home. Bary's family said this was not true and asked that she be returned home. She was placed in temporary foster care, and the case has been in the courts ever since.

Conservative Protestant advocacy groups entered the fray, claiming Bary as one of their own and making dire predictions about what would happen if the teen were returned home. These predictions are based primarily on two points: the claim of a runaway teenager that her father had threatened her and an assumption that the family's Muslim faith inevitably demands the blood of their daughter for converting.

On Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Daniel Dawson unsealed an investigative report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The report said "... FDLE's inquiry to date has failed to reveal any evidence of a conspiracy to commit, solicitation to commit, attempt or other efforts to commit any such action or other violence against (Bary)."

Already we are hearing cries of outrage from Bary's allies about the report. Here are some claims and known facts.

Bary claims she was sexually abused by an uncle. One of Bary's attorneys, John Stemberger, who was the primary organizer of a 2008 campaign to pass a state constitutional amendment restricting marriage to heterosexuals, alleges her father punched her on a couple of occasions.

The FDLE and the Franklin County (Ohio) Department of Children Services found no evidence of abuse, and Bary's school district had no record of allegations of abuse.

Bary said she left home because her mother found a Christian book in her room and said she would have to be sent back to Sri Lanka.

The Orlando Sentinel reported Rifqa stayed out one evening without permission, got into a confrontation with her mother and left home the next day. There are several other discrepancies between the story Bary told about her circumstances and what the FDLE report turned up.

Stemberger filed a legal memorandum alleging that the Columbus mosque attended by the family has ties to Muslim terrorists and Islamic extremists and was the subject of an FBI terror investigation.

The FBI told ABC News that the mosque is not under investigation.

Here's a possible scenario. A 17-year-old girl argues with her parents about various things, including her desire to change religions. She runs off, is caught and makes exaggerated claims about why she ran away.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that conservative Protestant advocacy groups are using Bary's case as a battleground in their culture war against Islam, and the Bary family are caught in their crosshairs. As attorney David Middlebrook of the Church Law Group told Charisma News Online, "These parents have rights and responsibilities. … The belief (that Bary is in danger) has to be reasonable."

The relationship between Rifqa Bary and her parents may be irretrievably broken, and she may well be better off under another roof for now. But Westerville, Ohio, is not a Pashtun village, and the claim that she would be the victim of an "honor killing" is simply anti-Muslim hysteria. Mohamed Bary, her father, told FDLE his daughter "would be permitted to study Christianity," and as an adult "she would be free to worship as she pleased."

Complicating all this is the fact the Barys are not U.S. citizens and their immigration status is unclear. Still, within a year, after Rifqa Bary turns 18, she can live where she likes, the courts will have no jurisdiction, and this will be a matter for the family to work out, or not.

At that point, my guess is that Stemberger and the other culture warriors who leaped to Bary's defense will be off looking for other cases.

[ Cary McMullen is religion editor for The Ledger. Read his blog, Scriptorium: A Religion Panorama, at religion.theledger.com. He can be reached at cary.mcmullen@theledger.com or 863-802-7509. ]

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