8 Nov 2010

Jurisdiction over Rifqa Bary, teen runaway who converted from Islam, will be transferred to Ohio

The Columbus Dispatch - Ohio October 14, 2009

Runaway who converted from Islam likely to return to Ohio

But the New Albany teenager would stay in foster home, not with Muslim parents

By Meredith Heagney | The Columbus Dispatch

Fathima Rifqa Bary is likely coming home to Ohio, the state she fled nearly three months ago, saying she feared death for her conversion to Christianity.

But she'll be staying in a foster home, not her parents' Northeast Side apartment.

Jurisdiction in the 17-year-old's case should be transferred from Florida to Ohio, judges in both states decided via conference call yesterday.

Dependency cases were filed in both states to determine whether the girl should be returned to her parents, who she says would harm her for leaving Islam.

"I believe this is the home state and the most convenient forum with respect to the issues as I understand them," said Franklin County Juvenile Judge Elizabeth Gill.

Judge Daniel P. Dawson of the 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida agreed, but he required certain steps be taken before she is returned.

Rifqa ran away in July, saying her father threatened to kill her for becoming a Christian. Mohamed Bary denied her accusations, and a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation found no credible threats to her safety.

She could be back in Ohio by Oct. 27, when a hearing is scheduled in Franklin County Juvenile Court, said Dawson, speaking from Orlando.

But before ordering her into the care of Franklin County Children Services, Dawson wanted two issues settled.

He asked for documented assurance that Rifqa's online schooling can continue in Ohio. Dawson also asked that Rifqa's parents provide all paperwork related to her immigration status before she crosses state lines.

The immigration status of Rifqa, a native of Sri Lanka, is unclear. Her guardian ad litem in Florida said she may not be in the United States legally.

It isn't yet clear exactly when Rifqa will return, or how she will be transported. She will receive a psychological evaluation when she gets here.

Dawson asked whether the Barys could simply dismiss the Ohio dependency case because they filed it themselves in an attempt to transfer jurisdiction.

Assistant Franklin County Prosecutor Chris Julian said they would not agree to dismiss the case. A Children Services official added that it would not be in Rifqa's or her family's best interest for her to live at home at this time.

In Gill's courtroom yesterday, Mohamed Bary and his wife, Aysha, sat calmly between their attorneys. They laughed when they heard Rifqa's Florida attorney, John Stemberger, say that she was in danger of being sent back to Sri Lanka where she could be killed or institutionalized.

Stemberger also said Rifqa wants to stay in Florida.

After the hearing, the Barys and their 18-year-old son, Rilvan, said they were told not to comment. Rifqa's Ohio attorney, Kort Gatterdam, cited a gag order in declining to comment.

Dawson expressed frustration during the hearing that the Barys had not provided Rifqa's immigration paperwork after repeated requests.

He gave them 10 business days to comply, under threat of being found in contempt of court.

He also ordered the release of the 110-page transcript of a nearly three-hour interview with Rifqa that was conducted by Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators. But some information must be redacted first, he said, not specifying an exact release date.

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Orlando Sentinel - October 23, 2009

Judge orders Fathima Rifqa Bary to return to Ohio

Amy L. Edwards | Sentinel Staff Writer

Fathima Rifqa Bary, the Ohio teenage runaway whose story of Muslim-to-Christianity conversion and charges of family abuse sparked debates about personal freedom, is going back to her home state.

Three months after Rifqa took a Greyhound bus to Orlando and sought shelter with pastors she had never met, an Orange County Circuit judge on Friday ordered the Florida Department of Children and Families to send the girl back to Ohio.

A DCF spokeswoman confirmed the agency received an order Friday afternoon from Orange County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Dawson.

He relinquished Orange County's emergency jurisdiction in the case and asked DCF to arrange the teen's transfer back to Ohio, where another case about her custody is ongoing.

"The Department will proceed with those arrangements," DCF spokeswoman Carrie Hoeppner said.

Citing safety, she said DCF will not release details about Rifqa's transfer.

Dawson last week decided Rifqa's case belonged in an Ohio court and asked that lawyers provide documentation regarding her education and immigration before he sent her home.

He learned this week that the girl could continue her education from Ohio. It is unclear what documentation Dawson was provided Friday about her immigration status. Statements made by Rifqa and her guardian ad litem, suggest there are issues with that status.

The teen has been living with a foster family in Central Florida. Ohio officials have indicated that she will be placed with a foster family in that state. It is not clear when -- or if -- she will live with her own family again.

Rifqa's father, Mohamed Bary, was laughing and giddy during a brief Friday afternoon phone call with the Orlando Sentinel. He would not comment, though, citing a gag order.

Rifqa's private attorney, John Stemberger, did not return phone calls seeking comment. He has said in court the teen wants to stay in Florida.

Rifqa has been in Central Florida since she ran away from her Columbus-area home in mid-July. Her story became public when a custody battle ensued in an Orange County courtroom, and it quickly gained national media attention because of her allegations against her Muslim father.

The petite girl, who was 16 when she ran away, said she feared Mohamed Bary would harm or kill her because she converted to Christianity.

Investigators in Florida and Ohio have found no credible threats against Rifqa, and her family has also denied such threats.

For months, Rifqa's case has been debated by lawyers in the Orange County juvenile court system and by the public -- especially on the World Wide Web.

Her first two weeks in Orlando she lived with Blake and Beverly Lorenz, longtime Central Florida pastors whom she met through a Christian group on the social networking site Facebook.

On Aug. 10 -- her 17th birthday -- an Orange County judge ordered her into DCF emergency custody. She has been in foster care in Central Florida since.

On Friday, Jamal Jivanjee, who used to pastor a church in the Columbus area and is one of Rifqa's friends and supporters, said the teen does not want to return to Ohio.

"She's a strong girl by nature," said Jivanjee, who now directs a Christian ministry in Tennessee. But he said, "She is definitely fearful. She is fearful about going back."

Sentinel staff writer Rene Stutzman contributed to this report. Amy L. Edwards can be reached at aledwards@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5735.

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