Egyptians decry 'virginity tests' on protesters
Activists and bloggers are pressing Egypt's military rulers to investigate accusations of serious abuses against protesters, including claims that soldiers subjected female detainees to so-called "virginity tests."
Bloggers say they will hold a day of online protest Wednesday to voice their outrage, adding to criticism of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took control of the country from ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February.
The accusations of virginity tests first surfaced after a March 9 rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square that turned violent when men in plain clothes attacked protesters and the army intervened forcefully to clear the square.
One woman who was arrested spoke out about her treatment, and Amnesty International further documented the abuse allegations in a report that found 18 female detainees were threatened with prostitution charges and forced to undergo virginity tests. They were also beaten up and given electric shocks, the report said.
Egypt's military rulers have come under heavy criticism from the youth protest movement, which is upset at the pace of reforms that they hope will lead Egypt to democracy.
Since Mubarak's fall on Feb. 11, the military has led crackdowns on peaceful protests, and critics accuse it of failing to restore security in the streets or launch serious national dialogue on a clear path forward for Egypt.
The military council denied soldiers attacked protesters at the March 9 rally. But one general used a press conference to make negative remarks about women who mingle with men during the sit-ins and suggested lewd acts were taking place in protest camps.
"There were girls with young men in one tent. Is this rational? There were drugs; pay attention!" Gen. Ismail Etman, spokesman of the council, said at the end of March.
He confirmed then that the military police arrested 17 female protesters among 170 others at the March 9 rally. He said the women were among a group of protesters given one-year suspended prison sentences.
"We secure the people. We don't use the violence," he said.
One of the women arrested, Salwa al-Husseini, gave a detailed account at a press conference in March of her treatment and said she was made to undergo a virginity test.
She said she was slapped in the face and electrocuted in her legs in Tahrir Square before being taken to a military prison.
"When we went to the military prison, me and the girls, we were placed in a room with two doors and a window. The two doors were wide open," she said in March. "The girl takes off all her clothes to be searched while there were cameras outside filming to fabricate prostitution charges against us later on," she added.
"The girl who says she is single, she undergoes a test by someone; we don't know if he is a soldier or some kid on their behalf," she said.
Amnesty said in its report that one of the women told her jailers she was a virgin but was beaten and given electric shocks when the test supposedly proved otherwise.
"Forcing women to have 'virginity tests' is utterly unacceptable," the Amnesty report said. "Its purpose is to degrade women because they are women."
The military council has promised to return the country to civilian rule after elections later this year, but some Egyptians fear the council is adopting the same autocratic ways that characterized Mubarak's rule. They point to what they say are attempts by the council to make any criticism of the military an untouchable taboo.
On Tuesday, the military prosecutor questioned a prominent blogger along with four other media people over their criticism of the performance of the council and military police.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, in a statement issued Tuesday, accused the council of trying to silence critics and create "an atmosphere of fear."
It warned, "The military council is committing a grave mistake if it continues to shut the mouths of those criticizing it. The council is not made up of angels."
The group also referred to virginity tests, saying that the military council is aware that "those belonging to it have practiced torture against the youth of the revolution and has subjected women to virginity tests."
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