A military court today acquitted an Egyptian Army doctor accused of performing forced “virginity tests” on at least seven female protesters last year, closing a rare opportunity to hold the military accountable for abuses it has committed over the last year.
Samira Ibrahim, who was arrested when the Army violently dispersed a peaceful protest a year ago, said the military forced seven of the detained women, including her, to undergo an invasive “virginity test” while they were at a military prison. Rights groups say the procedure, which included forced penetration, amounts to sexual assault. Other women present and forced to undergo the procedure verified her account.
The case was heard in a military court, and the judge ruled today that there was insufficient evidence the procedure took place, even though military generals have previously admitted to reporters and rights advocates that it was a standard procedure. The verdict was not surprising to many observers, after a trial in which the military prosecution did little to make the case against the doctor. Yet it comes as a disappointment to many who were pleased by the military’s initial decision to bring the case to trial, and for whom the the “virginity tests” case had become a rallying call for the movement against the military’s abuses.
"No one violated my honor," Ms. Ibrahim wrote on Twitter after the verdict. "The one whose honor was violated is Egypt, and I will carry on until I restore her rights."
Out of multiple cases of abuse, torture, and killing committed by the military in the year since it took power, not a single individual has been held responsible. Only two cases have come to trial: the “virginity tests” case, and one in which three soldiers are accused of voluntary manslaughter for killing protesters in October by running them over with vehicles in front of the state television building, referred to here as Maspero.
Heba Morayef, a Middle East and North Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, says these two cases were “sort of two chinks in the armor of military impunity,” and today’s verdict “doesn’t bode well for Maspero.”
Plaintiffs left vulnerable
It may also bring repercussions for Ms. Ibrahim, who pressed charges against the doctor despite the social stigma associated with the issue, and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified in the case. They could now be exposed to prosecution for insulting the military, as well as ridiculed by those who support the military.
“It's not just disastrous because it’s a failure to remedy the violation and abuse that they suffered, and to restore their dignity and their rights, but from a security perspective this makes them quite vulnerable,” says Ms. Morayef.
During the trial, the prosecution did not call any witnesses, while the defense called witnesses who said the procedure never happened.
Military generals told Morayef and at least three others in separate private meetings that “virginity tests” were standard procedure for female prisoners in military prisons, supposedly to protect the military from rape allegations. Morayef, activist Mona Seif, and reporter Shahira Amin testified to these meetings in the trial, yet the court did not call on military officials themselves to testify.