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Egypt bans virginity tests on female detainees

Civilian court’s ruling follows a public outcry

FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

Women in Cairo held placards that said in Arabic “I want my sister’s right’’ as they protested virginity tests reported on YouTube.

CAIRO - An Egyptian court yesterday banned virginity tests on female detainees in military-controlled prisons, buoying human rights groups, who said the civilian court’s ruling was binding on the country’s military leaders.

The ban came in response to a lawsuit filed by market manager Samira Ibrahim, one of seven women who said they were subjected to humiliating virginity checks after being detained by the military at a sit-in in March. At the time, the ruling generals denied their soldiers had conducted such tests and offered no apologies.

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An army general was later quoted as saying that tests had been carried out but only to protect soldiers from accusations of rape. Last week, the military announced it was investigating military personnel who were involved.

The generals’ management of the country’s period of transition has drawn criticism from political activists, but reports of mistreatment of women at the hands of the military have incensed a broad swath of Egyptians. In recent crackdowns on protesters, soldiers were filmed dragging unarmed women by their hair, beating them, and in at least one case stripping a woman to expose her bra.

“The sentencing prohibits anyone from performing such tests, including the military council,’’ said Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer. “They lost something they thought was an entrenched right.’’

Ibrahim, 25, has been one of the most outspoken about her experience and the most dogged about holding someone accountable.

The young woman posted a video on YouTube in which she said that after she was detained on March 9, she was shocked with cattle prods, accused of being a prostitute, forced to strip in front of soldiers, and then examined by a man in khaki pants in front of laughing soldiers.

The military doctor who conducted the test will face a hearing in a military court beginning Jan. 3, according to state television. A separate hearing is scheduled Jan. 8 for three other soldiers, who are accused of running over unarmed protesters in October when more than 26 demonstrators, mostly Christians, were killed in clashes with security forces.

Activists worry that in both cases the soldiers will be scapegoated while their commanding officers will not be penalized.

Egypt has no law bearing on the use of virginity tests in prisons, so the court’s outright prohibition of the practice yesterday represents a significant victory for women, human rights groups and legal analysts said.

General Adel el-Mursi, the head of the military judicial authority, said the ruling could not be applied because the military does not conduct forcible virginity tests, according to the state news agency MENA.

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