A Cairo military court on Sunday heard witness testimony in a case against a soldier who allegedly performed “virginity tests” on seven female protesters on 10 March 2011.
22-year-old Samira Ibrahim filed a lawsuit against the military doctor whom she accuses of conducting the tests on her and six other female detainees near Tahrir Square. In December, Ibrahim won an earlier case against the Supreme Council of the Armed Force (SCAF) when a Cairo Administrative Court ruled that virginity checks should not take place again in military prisons. According to human rights lawyer Hossam Bahgat the landmark ruling was the first of its kind against the military and was “the first crack in the SCAF’s impunity.”
In this second case, the defendant has denied performing the tests, insisting that he had simply asked the detainees if they were virgins rather than subjecting them to physical tests.
In Sunday’s court session, Rasha Abdel Rahman, a protester who claims to have undergone a virginity test after she was arrested on 9 March 2011, offered the court a graphic description of her ordeal. Abdel Rahman said she had been strip-searched by a female prison guard in an exposed space where the door and windows were left wide open. According to Abdel Rahman the doctor performed the test as soldiers walked past, she was threatened with beatings and electrocution if she refused to comply.
“Imagine if you, your daughter, sister or wife were subjected to such violation?” Abdel Rahman asked in a video she had earlier posted on YouTube. She says the traumatic experience continues to haunt her.
Other witnesses in the case included human rights activist Mona Seif, founder of the No to Military Trials campaign and Heba Morayef, a Human Rights Watch researcher.
They testified that Generals Mohamed El Assar and Hassan el Ruweiny had described the tests as a routine procedure in military prisons. Explaining that during official meetings El Assar and el Ruweiny described the tests as a “defensive measure” so that the women could not later claim they had been raped or sexually violated while in prison. Amnesty International also sent a written testimony citing an acknowledgement from a third general that the tests had been performed.
On 27 May 2011 in an interview with me on CNN, a senior military general admitted for the first time that virginity tests were performed on the female detainees. At the time, CNN did not disclose the general’s name. While testifying in court Sunday, I revealed my source was General Ismail Etman, who at the time was Head of the Armed Forces Morale Affairs department.
The court also heard from the defendant’s lawyers who claimed Abdel Rahman’s story did not match Ibrahim’s earlier story. The defence went on to point out that the other witnesses all worked for “foreign organisations”— suggesting that these organisations had hidden agendas, an allegation which has been frequently repeated by SCAF and government officials in recent weeks.
Ibrahim’s lawyers described the court session as a theatrical drama and a farce saying that the verdict was probably predetermined. The lawyers added that the case should have been referred to a civilian court to guarantee a fair trial.
“However, we are putting up a fight in order to reveal the truth,” Hossam Bahgat told reporters gathered outside the Nasr City military courthouse.
The court adjourned until 11 March when a verdict is expected.