x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Amnesty protests at 'torture' of female protesters by Egyptian military

A group of female detainees were tortured by military personnel with forced 'virginity tests' and other forms of humiliation at a prison in Cairo, Amnesty says.

CAIRO // Egyptian military personnel tortured a group of female detainees with forced "virginity tests" and other forms of humiliation at a prison in the capital this month, Amnesty International said yesterday.

The international human rights group's report of torture against 17 female protesters arrested on March 9 came after Monday's calls for an investigation from a coalition of Egyptian human rights groups.

The new report follows a number of other allegations — some documented on YouTube videos with alleged victims displaying ugly bruises and lacerations — that military forces have beaten and abused protesters arrested in recent weeks.

"The Egyptian authorities must halt the shocking and degrading treatment of women protesters," Amnesty International said yesterday. "Women fully participated in bringing change in Egypt and should not be punished for their activism."

The report quotes a female detainee by name who said she was arrested by the military while participating in a sit-in in Tahrir Square, transferred to a prison, and forced to take off all her clothing and undergo a virginity test by a man in a white coat along with 16 other detainees. According to the report, which was reportedly corroborated by other unnamed victims who spoke to Amnesty International, the military personnel "tried to further humiliate the women by allowing men to watch and photograph what was happening".

The women were brought before a military court on March 11 and released March 13, the report said. The woman quoted in the report said the court convicted her of disorderly conduct, destroying private and public property, obstructing traffic and possessing weapons.

A similar account of abuse of the 17 arrested women was offered Monday in a letter to the Ministry of Health signed by 16 Arab and Egyptian human-rights groups that called on the military to "immediately investigate the incident of Egyptian army officers and military doctors violating the sanctity of the human self and human body for tens of detainees on March 9".

A military spokesman could not be reached for comment yesterday, and the military has yet to respond to Monday's letter, said Gamal Eid, the director of the Arab Network for Human Rights, one of the co-signees.

Aida Saif el Dawla, a veteran human rights activist and co-founder of the Nadim Centre for Psychological Therapy and Rehabilitation, which spearheaded the Monday letter, laughed off the idea that the government would offer a response.

"Of course not," she said. "But there is always somebody who knows somebody on the military council, and from that we hear them say they don't have any idea of what was happening in the military prison."

Until the military took over on February 11, it had no experience in holding female detainees, Dr Saif el Dawla said.

"The whole situation has not been tested before," she said.

cstanton@thenational.ae