Rasmus Sonderriis
7 min readJan 24


Despite walking, talking, living proof that the crime never took place, Denmark convicted a Somali mother and father of genital mutilation of their two daughters.

A sensational podcast series in Danish, titled ‘The Living Proof’, demolishes the cocksure assessments of the school, police, judges, prosecutors, and accredited practitioners of legal medicine in Denmark, which sent a married couple from Somalia to prison for a year and a half.

This small, prosperous Scandinavian nation has a well-established reputation for rule of law. If you are not guilty of anything, you might think yourself safe from the Danish legal system. Well, think again, if you happen to be an immigrant suspected of a crime that fits the stereo­type of your ethnicity.

There was no shortage of public funds and media attention dedicated to the trial. And to two high-profile appeals. And yet, only now is this case getting the critical scrutiny it deserves. Redeeming Denmark somewhat, the Danish Union of Journalists has just awarded the prestigious Cavling Prize to Frederik Hugo Ledegaard Thim, the investigative journalist behind the podcast ‘The Living Proof’. He is being praised for his remarkable tenacity. Finally, Denmark is taking notice. The newspaper Politiken Daily has also published an impactful article.

Illustration for the podcast “The Living Proof” by journalist Frederik Hugo Ledegaard Thim.

The story begins in 2015, when a Danish schoolteacher suspects the parents of 8-year-old Jasmin and 15-year-old Amira (not their real names) of subjecting the two girls to female genital mutilation (FGM) during a holiday in Kenya. The teacher claims to have extracted a testimony to this effect from little Jasmin in a one-on-one conversation. Her report to the authorities sets the wheels of injustice in motion. And keeps them turning relentlessly for years. An aggressive police force and unqualified medical examiners are happy to play along. They disparage and overrule the real experts enlisted by the family’s legal defence. The press laps it up without posing critical questions.

Except journalist Frederik Hugo Ledegaard Thim, who begins to suspect foul play in 2018, by the time the case has reached the Supreme Court. He is impressed by the persistence of ‘Amira’, the older of the two supposed victims of the crime, today a 22-year-old woman determined to clear the name of her parents. She is, literally, the living proof. “Anyone who is an expert in this field [FGM] is allowed to examine me down below”, she says. Four distinguished gynaecologist have done so, including the Swedish FGM expert Doctor Birgitta Essén and Danish ditto Doctor Charlotte Wilken-Jensen, all corroborating with absolute certainty that the girls were never subjected to any type of FGM, which always leaves lifelong lesions.

At first, the journalist is told that the police have lost the original colposcopy, the video recording of the girls’ genitalia that substantiated three consecutive guilty verdicts. However, he finally gets hold of it, and Doctor Charlotte Wilken-Jensen gets to see it. She discovers no sign of any anatomy missing, and, at any rate, only by palpating (touching) to search for scar tissue can a safe conclusion be arrived at. The incompetence is staggering, and yet, the Council of Legal Medicine insisted throughout the court proceedings that the occurrence of FGM was beyond reasonable doubt.

Amira recounts how she has personally written the paediatrist who first misdiagnosed her condition, the only doctor who examined her physically for the court, and who is not even a gynaecologist. Amira would like to visit the doctor, hoping for at least an admission of potential fallibility. Instead, she gets an evasive response along the lines of: “this case is closed and shut, so I am not meeting you, and get over it”.

When the testimony of more specialized doctors is submitted to the Special Court of Final Appeal, it is rejected out of hand, with no reason given. It turns out that the new evidence is evaluated by the same three doctors who got it wrong in the first place by judging solely from pictures. The podcast journalist suggests that this practice makes no sense, since “it’s only human to deny our own mistakes”.

This is actually a let-off. Alerted to the risk that their professional misjudgement has sent innocent people to prison, surely a normal, minimally conscientious reaction would be a desire to get to the bottom of it. Their names have not been publicized. Politiken Daily reports that they are retired, but they ought to be hung out to dry. They are some of the true villains in this drama, albeit far from the only ones. An entire system of education, social work and justice intoxicated itself with a brew of stubborn ignorance and fanatical self-righteousness.

At the end of each podcast episode, the journalist reads out: “I have put forward Amira’s criticism to a series of authorities. Southeast Jutland’s Police Department writes by email that the bulk of the concerns, pronouncements, testimonies, expert statements etc. that you are referring to, have, at one point or another, formed part of what was presented as evidence in court. And that all the relevant objections have been tested repeatedly by the judiciary. Accordingly, the police find no grounds for questioning the judicial process in this case.”

This sounds eerily like: “It’s not just now, but since the beginning of this case that we refuse to see or hear anything, no matter how compelling, that contradicts our preconceived beliefs.”

There are many powerful moments in the podcast series of 7 episodes. One that is both heart-breaking and blood-boiling is in Episode 2, when we get to hear the original recording of the police interrogation of the 8-year-old. Little Jasmin is deeply upset by the accusation against her parents. Fully 18 times, she denies being circumcised. The interrogator will not take no for an answer. This is pure psychological child abuse.

This audio clip also disturbed Torsten Brinch, an elderly activist against circumcision, who listened to it while attending the courtroom sessions, taking notes. He expected to report on a barbaric crime to his social-media followers. But as the trial progressed, he changed his mind: “I basically thought: why are these parents so keen on having their girls examined by the foremost experts in the world? Did they commit the perfect crime and expect to get away with it? Or are they truly convinced of their own innocence?” He also found one gynaecologist witnessing for the defence, Per Lundorff, to come across as “deeply trustworthy”. In Episode 4, Torsten Brinch says: “When it was judgment time, I thought: they’re going to be acquitted! This accusation doesn’t hold water whatsoever.”

He was shocked when the guilty verdict was read out, sending the parents behind bars. Adding insult to injury, the judge couches it in flowery language of concern for children’s rights.

The podcast suggests that indirect political pressure was brought to bear.
Civilized Denmark had to showcase its toughness on a cruel, misogynistic custom from Africa. Instead, the case highlights the destructiveness of Denmark’s moral-superiority complex.

This has also been on full display in the official Danish response to the recent war in northern Ethiopia. At a massive cost in resources and human lives, the forces loyal to the elected government fought off a brutal march on the capital by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the dictatorial old guard turned rebel army. This was an opportunity for Denmark to express solidarity with a fledgling fellow democracy, to utter concern for the security of the Ethiopian people. Instead, Denmark consistently scolded Ethiopia, waxing pacifist against both sides with a simplistic presumption of African barbarism.

In their self-introspective moments, the Danes do admit to smugness being a weakness of their national character. This is expressed in a beloved Danish folk song from the 70s, a kind of alternative national anthem. After cheerfully singing the praises of the Danish way of life, the tone turns grave:

“Other people exist who are not Danish. They dwell in caves and fight all day long. This is something we never ever did. Those lands of hot weather are a load of shit.”

Just in case anyone is offended, this is not a racist outburst, but insightful self-irony, a biting social critique of Danish mentality that is as relevant as ever.

Not just ‘The Living Proof’, but three of the four journalistic works nominated for the latest Cavling Prize address unchecked abuse of power and a culture of suppressing the truth within Danish society. And yet, at the award ceremony hosted by the Danish Union of Journalists, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, the Deputy Prime Minister, took the opportunity to say: “Free and open societies is a cause that Denmark fights for around the world. We’ve done so for decades, and I promise you, we shall continue to do so”.

Well, but charity begins at home. And Amira is not giving up. Her parents have served their sentences and life goes on, but she continues to fight for the Danish system to own up to its miscarriage of justice. “I want them to say, oh, we’ve committed a huge mistake and we’re so sorry”.

No, this could never compensate for the humiliation and suffering, but, yes, it would have a healing effect. On Amira. On her family. And on Denmark too.



Rasmus Sonderriis

Danish-Chilean journalist who has spent a total of over six years in Ethiopia since 2004