'Virginity tests' on Egypt protesters are illegal, says judge
December 27, 2011
Riazat Butt and Abdel-Rahman Hussein
Decision may open door to financial compensation for women subjected to tests during anti-government protests
Forced "virginity tests" on female detainees were ruled illegal in Egypt on Tuesday, after a court ordered an end to the practice.
Hundreds of activists were in the Cairo courtroom to hear the judge, Aly Fekry, say the army could not use the test on women held in military prisons in a case filed by Samira Ibrahim, one of seven women subjected to the test after being arrested in Tahrir Square during a protest on 9 March.
Fekry, head of the Cairo administrative court, decreed that what happened to Ibrahim and six other detainees was illegal and any similar occurrence in the future would also be considered illegal.
The court is expected to issue a further injunction against such tests and decree that the test was completely illegal, opening the door for financial compensation.
After the verdict Ibrahim, 25, posted on Twitter: "Thank you to the people, thank you to Tahrir Square that taught me to challenge, thank you to the revolution that taught me perseverance."
The 25-year-old marketing manager, who said she faced death threats for bringing the case, told CNN: "Justice has been served today.
"These tests are a crime and also do not comply with the constitution, which states equality between men and women. I will not give up my rights as a woman or a human being."
Ibrahim said her treatment showed the tests were intended to "degrade the protesters.
"The military tortured me, labelled me a prostitute and humiliated me by forcing on me a virginity test conducted by a male doctor where my body was fully exposed while military soldiers watched."
After the verdict she and others, including the presidential candidate and former broadcaster Bothaina Kamel, marched to Tahrir Square. Ibrahim was later photographed at Kaser el Nil bridge flashing the victory sign.
Egyptian academic and columnist Amira Nowaira gave a cautious welcome to the ruling. Speaking from Alexandria she said: "Nobody had heard of the virginity tests before so it is good a court has said they cannot be used. People should be prosecuted but it's going to be hard, even assigning blame will be difficult. Who is ultimately responsible?"
"The military had been denying they were doing the tests, then they said it was a standard procedure and came up with lots of excuses about why they were doing it."
The head of the judicial military authority, General Adel Morsy, was cited in state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper as saying that the administrative court ruling could not be implemented because there was nothing in the statutes that govern military prisons about permitting the carrying out of virginity tests. Ibrahim will return to court in February, to appeal against the one-year suspended sentence she received for insulting authorities and participating in an unauthorised assembly in March.
The case brings to the fore protester complaints against military actions during the transitional period.
There is a long list of violations attributed to the military, with some 12,000 civilians being charged and sentenced in military courts, and numerous incidents that have led to deaths of protesters.
Almost in conjunction with the administrative court ruling, it was announced that the military doctor who undertook the tests would be referred to a military court on 3 January.
He is being charged with public indecency and disobeying military orders, but not sexual assault.
Hossam Bahgat, the head of Egyptian initiative for personal rights (EIPR), said: "To call it a medical checkup is disingenuous. It was torture and sexual assault.
"It wasn't conducted in a medical clinic, but in full view of the soldiers, hence why the charge is one of public indecency, which is incorrect?
"The military doctor being charged is a scapegoat, because these soldiers follow orders and what happened to the detainees is the responsibility of those running the prison."
Ibrahim, in recounting her ordeal to Human Rights Watch, said two officers had entered the prison cell, where the women were detained, and asked which of them were married.
The officers informed them they would be subjected to virginity tests to confirm they were not lying.
"They took us out one by one … they took me to a bed in a passageway in front of the cell. There were lots of soldiers around and they could see me.
"I asked if the soldiers could move away and the officer escorting me teased me.
"A woman prison guard in plainclothes stood at my head and then a man in military uniform examined me with his hand for several minutes. It was painful. He took his time."
The case was heard in the first circuit of the administrative court, known as the rights and freedoms circuit, and was filed by three Egyptian rights advocacy groups – EIPR, the Hisham Mubarak law centre and the Nadeem centre for the rehabilitation of victims of torture.
However, the court ruling is an administrative one only, and because of the provisions of the military penal code the chances of pursuing criminal liability against the transgressors lies only within the jurisdiction of military courts.Campaign groups have been documenting the escalation in sexual violence towards female demonstrators and claim brutal tactics are used are to deter, intimidate and humiliate those taking part in political activities.
Last week Nadya Khalife, from Human Rights Watch, said: "Images of military and police who strip, grope, and beat protesters have horrified the world and brought into sharp focus the sexual brutality Egyptian women face in public life.
At this crucial stage in Egypt's history, women need to be able to take part in demonstrations and elections without fear. "Security forces' disgraceful attacks and the government's broader failure to address sexual violence and harassment do not bode well for Egypt's women."
The New Woman Foundation, in Egypt, said at least nine women were arrested during a protest in November, with some accusing security forces of physical and verbal assault.
HUMILIATION AND VIOLATION CLAIMS
Samira Ibrahim was one of seven female protesters subjected to the "virginity test" after being arrested in Tahrir Square during a protest on 9 March. The demonstrators were among almost 200 detained that day, 20 of whom were women.
The following day the female detainees were separated into two groups, the married and unmarried. The seven unmarried women were given a medical checkup during which the "virginity test" was done.
The incident occurred a month into the handling of the country's affairs by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, their authority granted by the deposed Hosni Mubarak before his ousting on 11 February.
The military was by then losing patience with Tahrir protesters, already having forcibly dispersed protests against the government of the then Egyptian prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak's final cabinet appointment.
The case of Ibrahim and the other six female detainees is one of a litany of abuses that occurred that night on the night of 9 March, with many protesters who were held being tortured and beaten on the site of the Egyptian museum that lies off the square. Other protesters were subjected to whipping and electric shocks throughout the night.
Ibrahim was one of those transferred to the military prison known locally as the Haykestep, referring to its location off the Cairo-Ismailia road.
The virginity tests were carried out in full view of soldiers and other detainees present at the prison, according to the human rights lawyer Ahmed Hossam, who was representing Ibrahim in the case and is attached to the Egyptian initiative for personal rights.