Austrian Circumcisers Face Criminal Charges

Two Austrian circumcisers, a rabbi and a mohel of Vienna, are facing criminal charges of inflicting grievous bodily harm. The charges mention the child's right to physical integrity, the absence of informed consent, and that religious motivation does not excuse the wrongful act.

The announcement we received appears below.

Steven Svoboda
Attorneys for the Rights of the Child
Rothwangl Sepp

Charges brought against two religious circumcisers for the first time in Austria
Criminal charge: grievous bodily harm inflicted on at least 2000
babies and small children
(Vienna, 29 November 2012) – Charges are being brought against the
community rabbi and mohel of the Jewish Religious Community in Vienna.
The rabbi has stated himself that for religious reasons he has
performed operations, where there was no medical indication, on the
genitals of over 1000 male babies. The second accused is a general
practitioner who runs a circumcision centre in Vienna and is
specialized in ritual Islamic circumcision. He is also the president
of the Islamic Religious Community in Vienna. On his website he
proudly presents photos of circumcised children online. The doctor
also faces charges by the disciplinary commission of the Chamber of
Doctors. The rabbi will also be charged for violation of medical law.
Circumcision is a severe trauma for children

“The removal of the penis foreskin is a surgical operation on the
physical integrity of the patient. In cases where there are no medical
reasons, it is a matter of deliberate grievous bodily harm,” explains
Anja Oberkofler, lawyer. Even nowadays the operation is often carried
out without an anaesthetic and is extremely painful: babies have no
protective mechanism and because of the shock often fall into a
momentary coma. The circumcision ritual is often performed without any
explanation and frequently also without any anaesthetic; for little
boys aged between 6 and 8 this causes severe trauma. The foreskin is
the most sensitive part of the penis and thus highly erogenous tissue.
When it is removed the glans is covered by a layer of hard skin. This
can result in the loss of sexual sensitivity and a limited ability to
achieve an orgasm, as testified by many of those affected. Possible
complications can occur after the operation such as bleeding or
mutilation: according to current medical information the ratio is
between 2 and 10 per cent.

Religiously motivated bodily harm is not per se exempt from punishment

A further reason for the charge: for an operation with such grave
consequences it is necessary to gain the consent of the person
concerned. This does not occur in the case of babies and children. As
lawyer Oberkofler stated, “It is incomprehensible why religious
approval to inflict grievous bodily harm should be exempt from
punishment.” Austria has signed the UNO convention on the rights of
children which contains a regulation concerning punishment for the
circumcision of children due to religious reasons. The right of
protection of bodily integrity is also anchored in the Charter of
fundamental rights of the European Union. “The fundamental right of
the child to have physical integrity ensured cannot be annulled by
arguing for the religious freedom of the parents. The religious
freedom of the parents in bringing up their children ends where
grievous bodily harm inflicted on their child begins”, she says.
Charge brought by victim of abuse and circumcision
The charge is being brought by Sepp Rothwangl, who was subject to
sexual abuse in his childhood by a member of the church. “Nowadays I
see it as my duty to ensure that children should not suffer physical
and emotional harm because of religious privileges which go
unpunished.” Rothwangl has also been instrumental in organizing the
campaign against church privileges; signatures are at present being
collected for this campaign. “I am totally against special rights for
religious communities, because it should not be allowed to mutilate
children’s sexual organs in the name of religion without being
punished,” stated Rothwangl. “This is where civil society and the rule
of law have to intervene.” The campaign against church privileges is
therefore also in favour of bringing the current criminal charges.
Afflicted persons break their silence
The second person bringing charges is Cahit Kaya, who was circumcised
as a child according to Islamic ritual. “I would have liked to have
had the freedom myself to decide whether I would be circumcised or
not”, says Kaya today. “But without my consent, without any
information and without any preparation on the part of the doctor nor
on the part of my parents, I was circumcised in a state hospital in
Vorarlberg. Many Moslems suffer a great deal from the sexual
consequences of their circumcision and are ashamed to have been a
victim of this operation. If they do indeed talk about it, then only
in their very closest circle of friends. This silence finally has to
be broken.”
For press enquiries: Campaign against Church Privileges (Initiative
gegen Kirchenprivilegien)
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