An Egyptian military court has acquitted a doctor of forcing a “virginity test” on a female protester detained last year. Rights activists are condemning the verdict.
The judge at the military tribunal said conflicting testimony led him to find the accused doctor, Ahmed Adel, not guilty of “public indecency” and “disobeying military orders.”
Protester Samira Ibrahim brought the case against Adel after being detained during protests last March. She was among seven women who gave accounts they had been forced to undergo what are called virginity tests, a practice denounced by human rights groups and the military itself.
Protesters outside the military courtroom Sunday reacted angrily, chanting for the downfall of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Ibrahim briefly collapsed after the verdict was passed.
The case was seen as a key test of reform in post-revolution Egypt. Human rights groups that followed the case said military leaders last year acknowledged that virginity tests had been carried out to protect soldiers from allegations of rape, but had vowed to ban their future use. In December, a civilian court ruled that the tests be outlawed.
But the military tribunal which heard Ibrahim's complaint said it could not establish the tests had been used.
Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch says she was very disappointed, but not surprised.
“Today was Samira's chance for justice, to see somebody punished for sexually assaulting her, because this is what the virginity test in detention amounts to, and to have her dignity restored in the eyes of the public. And, instead, she has had the opposite. The Egyptian justice system, the military justice system has failed her - as expected perhaps - but the repercussions of this are great.”
Many of Ibrahim's supporters said that with the military still running the country, they, too, had not expected a conviction. They noted the case had already been downplayed, with the court dropping Ibrahim's charge of rape. In comments carried by Egyptian state media, the judge said he had not come under any pressure in making his decision.
Ibrahim was among a larger group of women detained by the military during continuing protests after the Egyptian uprising last year. According to testimony given to human rights groups by several of those involved, married and unmarried women were separated, and the unmarried women were subjected to the tests.
Rights groups have lauded Ibrahim for going public with her account.
Human Rights Watch researcher Morayef:
"This was extremely brave, not only because at the time the military was directly involved in torture and the excessive use of force against the demonstrations and seemed to have absolute power, but also because Samira knew very well the risks she was running in terms of the potential reputation backlash, because of the nature of the crime she has experienced.”
Morayef notes that Egyptian women very rarely come forward because of the social stigma many in the country attach to victims of sexual crimes.
The so-called virginity tests are an inaccurate way some governments and individuals use to see if a woman has had sexual relations. Doctors often examine whether the hymen has torn, something that can happen for a variety of reasons unrelated to sex. Rights activists also describe the test as humiliating and a gross violation of privacy.