Egypt: Court clears ‘virginity test’ doctor

A doctor accused of carrying out forced “virginity tests” on female Egyptian protesters has been acquitted by a military court. Ahmed Adel was cleared after the judge found contradictions in witness statements. The case was brought by Samira Ibrahim, who said the “tests” were carried out on female protesters who were detained during a protest in Tahrir Square in March 2011. Ibrahim wrote on Twitter that the verdict had stained the honour of Egypt and she would carry on until she had “restored Egypt’s rights”.

Military court hears evidence in Egyptian “virginity tests” case

Samira Ibrahim

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.

Victory for women protesters subjected to “virginity tests”

A Cairo civilian court has ordered an end to the practice of forced virginity tests on female detainees in military prisons.

Judge Ali Fekry, head of the Egyptian Administrative Court, read out the ruling at noon on Tuesday in a courtroom  packed with pro-democracy activists and journalists. The crowd immediately erupted in cheers of jubilation and anti-military chants. Activists outside the courtroom hugged and congratulated each other flashing the victory sign.

Samira Ibrahim, the 25-year-old woman who had filed a lawsuit against the army for ordering the virginity checks, is one of several female protesters who were subjected to the humiliating tests after being arrested by the military during a protest in Tahrir Square on 9 March.

In that demonstration, staged less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down, the Egyptian military had appeared to deliberately target the protesters. Soldiers dragged dozens of pro-democracy activists from Tahrir Square and through the gates of the  Egyptian Museum.

Salwa Hosseini, a 20-year-old hairdresser who was among the protesters rounded up by the army later told CNN that uniformed soldiers had tied her up , forced her to the ground and repeatedly slapped her. They shocked her with a stun gun, calling her a prostitute.

Bowing to public pressure, the army later suspended the one year prison sentence it had handed the protesters. Hosseini and the other female protesters later told reporters “The army wanted to teach us a lesson. They wanted to make us feel that we do not have dignity.”

An Amnesty International report, published weeks after the March 9 protest, claimed female demonstrators were beaten, given electric shocks, strip-searched, threatened with prostitution charges and forced to submit to virginity tests .

After repeated denials by military authorities that the virginity tests had been conducted, a senior Egyptian military general finally admitted to CNN on 30 May 30 that the virginity checks had indeed been performed. The general however defended the practice.

“The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine,” the general said. “These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square.”

He added that the army had carried out the tests in “self-defence so that the women wouldn’t later claim they had been raped by Egyptian authorities.”

Wiping away tears of joy, Samira told reporters outside the courtroom Tuesday that “justice had at last been served.”

The court had postponed a hearing in November leading activists to suspect the case may drag on for months.

Human Rights lawyer Hossam Bahgat said the case was a “victory for all women” adding that it was the first crack in the army’s impunity.

Samira’s case marked the second “victory” for pro-democracy activists this week in rulings involving the army. Another court had ordered the release on bail of prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah a day earlier. Alaa was accused of inciting violence against the military and attacking soldiers in deadly clashes between security forces and Coptic protesters demanding protection of their churches last October.

The military generals running the country since President Hosni Mubarak was forced out in February  have faced mounting pressure from pro-democracy activists in recent weeks for rights violations. A series of nationwide protests broke out last week after the local and international media flaunted pictures of  military brutality against pro- democracy activists who had staged a sit in outside cabinet headquarters demanding an end to military rule. A picture of a half-naked female protester  being dragged and beaten by soldiers who had torn off  her clothes, triggered public outrage and prompted thousands of Egyptian women to take to the streets last week chanting that “Girls are the red line” and “No to military rule”.

Similar slogans were repeated on Tuesday as Samira and the activists marched from the courtroom in Dokki to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to celebrate the ruling. Egypt’s first female presidential candidate, Bothayna Kamel, a staunch supporter of women’s  and minority rights marched alongside Samira, leading  the crowd over Kasr el Nil bridge to Tahrir. Male activists  joined the rally  forming a “protective cordon” to shield the women against any harrassers as they had done in the women’s march earlier in the week.

With calls growing louder in Egypt in recent weeks for a quick handover to civilian rule, the army appears  jittery and willing to make concessions to appease a disgruntled public. The generals have expressed regret for the widely publicised photograph of the half-naked woman under attack from army soldiers. The apology, the release of blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah and the ruling to stop the virginity checks on female detainees all signal a clear policy shift by the army, away from the repressive tactics. But sceptics here wonder if it may be “too little too late” as plans are already underway for “a second revolution” on 25 January 2012 in Tahrir to force out the autocratic military rulers.