An Egyptian court on Tuesday handed the military junta a slap in the face, ending the controversial forced “virginity tests” against female protesters that had caused global outrage since they were first revealed last summer.
The court, ruling on a lawsuit filed by victims Samira Ibrahim and Maha Mohamed in two separate cases, called for the immediate cessation of such practices at military facilities across the country.
The cases had been filed by Ibrahim with the assistance of lawyers from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture.
Although dozens of young women were subjected to the tests on March 9, the 25-year-old Ibrahim is the only one who has spoken out about the incident and filed a lawsuit against the military rulers.
As the verdict was being read, cheers outside the court were loud and boisterous, with protesters saying “women are a red line.” It also came after the military was caught on video brutality beating women in downtown Cairo earlier this month, stripping one woman down to her bra in violence that left the country shocked and galvanized.
Her verdict, which was supposed to take place on Tuesday, November 30, was expected to be either a “monumental day for women’s rights in the Middle East, or if history repeats itself, […] a shameful day for women’s rights.”
After worries it would be the latter, Tuesday had activists joyful, a rare occasion as the military junta continues to crackdown on activists in the country.
“It is a great day for women and women’s rights. It was shameful that it even happened, so finally our courts show they can do something for justice,” Eman Yussif, a 33-year-old supporter of Ibrahim and protester at the court, told Bikyamasr.com.
Human Rights Watch interviewed Ibrahim and another victim, Salwa al-Hosseini, and reviewed the testimony of two others obtained by doctors at the Nadim Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture.
All four concurred in their statements that on the morning of March 10, two officers went into the prison cell holding the 17 women and asked them who among them was married and who was not.
“Then they told the seven of us that they were going to examine us to see if we were really virgins. They took us out one by one. When it was my turn 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 tasered me. The woman prison guard in plain clothes 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. It was clear he was doing it on purpose to humiliate me.”
“I was beaten, electrocuted, and forced to strip naked in front of male officers,” Ibrahim told Human Rights Watch.
The official complaint before the Administrative Court states that Ibrahim “was exposed to the ugliest forms of humiliation, torture and a violation of the sanctity of her body.”
In a court hearing on October 25, the State Council lawyer denied this allegation and called for the dismissal of the case based on lack of evidence.
The case, however strong in many corners of Egyptian society, received little local media coverage, angering and saddening Ibrahim.
“It breaks my heart that international outrage over my case is stronger than that of my fellow Egyptians,” Ibrahim said.
Violations against women are therefore hugely underreported in Egypt – one recent report from 2003 found that as many as 98 percent of rape and sexual assault cases are not reported to authorities.
By Joseph Mayton