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EGYPT: Government defends military trials, 'virginity tests' to human-rights advocates


Human-rights advocates on Tuesday demanded Egypt’s transitional military government end military trials and the country’s emergency law, release and retry imprisoned protesters and investigate the alleged torture of those in custody.

Over the last three days, Egyptian government officials meeting with representatives from New York-based Human Rights Watch promised to review the country’s civil-rights laws but also defended military trials and refused to acknowledge that security forces tortured those in custody, defending so-called virginity tests of female protesters.

“They justified the use of military tribunals by saying they used them in a very narrow way,” including “against thugs,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, after the meetings ended in Cairo. “They denied they had been using military tribunals against protesters.”

Timeline: Revolution in Egypt

At least 5,600 civilians have been sentenced by military courts since former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down Feb. 11 and the military took over, according to Human Rights Watch. The group has been tracking the cases of at least five protesters sentenced by military courts and imprisoned. Scores more were jailed and released with suspended sentences, human-rights advocates said.

“In none of these cases were military trials justified,” Roth said, adding that military trials were “staining” the new government’s human-rights record.

Esamblog Esam El Khateb, 53, was drawing political caricatures in Tahrir Square in February when he said security forces arrested, jailed and beat him with batons and electrical cords. A week later, Khateb was brought before a military court without a lawyer, convicted of breaking curfew and released with a three-month suspended sentence.

Now Khateb — a geologist from Suez — has hired a lawyer and is trying to get his sentence repealed and the guards who beat him prosecuted, “to bring me back my dignity and my own human rights.” Human Rights Watch officials have demanded that Egypt’s government retry all civilians sentenced by military courts in civilian courts.

Roth said it was not clear how committed the new government was to investigating and prosecuting members of the security forces for past abuses, given the refusal by officials, particularly those at the interior ministry, to acknowledge reports of torture.

Egyptian officials promised to investigate complaints of torture, but that approach is “too passive,” Roth said, especially since the public is still expected to file complaints at the same police stations where some claim to have been abused.

“We need transparent investigations of the torture cases, even if there is no complaint,” said Heba Morayef, Egypt representative for Human Rights Watch.

Egyptian officials claim to have overhauled the interior ministry’s State Security Investigations, or internal police, replacing 28 of 39 generals and renaming the agency the National Security Forces, Roth said. But the human-rights advocates pressed them to go a step further and investigate and prosecute those who allegedly tortured and supervised the torture of prisoners during the revolution, adding civilian oversight to the new agency.

“In order to really change an agency, it’s necessary to go after the supervisors who ordered the torture, not just the torturer,” Roth said, otherwise, “torture will simply rear its ugly head again and infect this new agency.”

Roth questioned a member of the country’s ruling supreme military council about “virginity tests” that female protesters claim they were subjected to while in custody March 9, which a general defended last month to CNN.

Roth said the official he spoke with, who asked not to be identified, defended the tests as a way of preventing women from claiming they were raped in custody but said security forces had been instructed to stop the tests, which Roth called “degrading” and “humiliating.”

Roth said it was particularly important to shore up civil-rights laws and enforcement ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections next fall, to ensure free and fair elections.

“This is a moment of great opportunity for Egypt,” he said, “The key now is to take the steps necessary to form a real democracy.”

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo

Photos, from top: Riot policemen outside Egypt's Interior Ministry Monday, where demonstrators were protesting police brutality on the first anniversary of the death of 28-year-old Khaled Said, allegedly beaten by police in Alexandria. The beating, and pictures of Said's body later posted online, helped crystalize Egypt's political movement. Credit: Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters. Esam El Khateb, 53, says security forces arrested, jailed and beat him. Credit: Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times


Comments () | Archives (4)

So if the woman is not a virgin is it OK to rape the ?? What kind of screwed up mentality is that ? This is pure torture of women, and nothing else. It is indefensible, and the fact that these creeps even attempt to justify it proves they do not deserve to lead this country. Sickening.

The more that Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood move toward the top of the political food chain, the more we will see women oppressed, abused and brutalized. Sharia Law has institutionalized mistreatment of women for centuries and nothing has changed in the 21st century...

This article is surely a joke? Defends "virginity" tests. Seems to me its just an excuse for someone to have a grope! How can this be the business of the police?????????? Put another way is the new "government" of Egypt any better than the old one?

There is no justification for anybody and at any time to conuct a virginity test, especially a FORCED virginity test and also using blackmail tactics to charge with prostitution. that is very very very filthy, and it is indicative of the ignorance and satanic mentality of those perverts running the country. All those in the streets with rifles can not even write their own names let alone deal with people on a day to day basis. My own valuables got stolen from my own apartment in police presence, and they probably blackmailed or bribed the officer writing the report so they would be able to prove that those valuables were not in the apartment. That is how unethical this system is.
I think the systems that supported the old regime are still operating in full force because from the news (the honest news) I see, totures are still there, unwarranted arrests and detentions are still there, and ofcourse a virginity test where naked girls walking around are watched by tens of soldiers and policemen...
Let us be honest with ourselves. You may lie to the whole world, but God almight is merciful till the last minute [only]


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