REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- An Egyptian military tribunal Sunday acquitted an army doctor of giving women activists "virginity tests" in a case that angered the nation over violent crackdowns on protests that included intimidating women with sexual abuse.
Charges filed by Samira Ibrahim against Dr. Ahmed Adel highlighted the army’s suppression of dissent as it struggled to keep order following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. The tribunal, which contradicted an earlier civilian court ruling, suspended Ibrahim’s accusations, citing contradictory statements by witnesses.
Two nurses testified that no virginity tests were given, saying that army officers only asked the women if they were married or pregnant. The tribunal also noted that Ibrahim and another woman gave different names for a prison guard, a discrepancy Ibrahim’s lawyers said was minor and should not have jeopardized her case.
Ibrahim reportedly ran weeping from the courtroom, telling her supporters: “In God’s name this is not fair. There is only injustice in our country now. . .This case has turned into a theatrical show.”
Dozens of members of the Egyptian Assn. for Women chanted outside against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Ahmed Omar, an women association member, said, “Although an acquittal was expected, everybody was devastated and depressed.”
A civilian administrative court in December had found that 34 women were subjected to virginity tests in military hospitals. The court, which had no power to charge officers, ordered that such procedures be stopped. Ibrahim, who last year received a one-year suspended jail sentence for rioting, had accused the army of humiliating her in attempts to deter her from participating in anti-government demonstrations.
The army repeatedly stated that it had no policy to give such tests. But an officer speaking anonymously to the media months ago said they had been done. Amnesty International said in June that Maj. Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, a member of the ruling council, had admitted that such tests were carried out “protect the army against possible allegations of rape.”
The tribunal’s verdict on Sunday “shows that Egypt's judiciary is not independent,” said Bothaina Kamel, the country’s lone female presidential candidate. “Ibrahim represents all Egyptian women and this case was the last chance for [the military] to improve its image in the eyes of Egyptians. They failed the test.”
The military’s treatment of women was further criticized in December when soldiers attacked protesters, including one woman whose top was ripped off, exposing her blue bra, an image that went viral and embarrassed the nation. Human rights groups have also condemned the army for trying about 12,000 civilians in military courts.
The ruling council has vowed to hand power to a civilian government following the election of a new president in May. Some activists and members of parliament have called for an investigation into the military’s crackdown on protests, which left scores dead in unrest later last year.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman
Photo: Activist Samira Ibrahim, right, who claimed she was forced to undergo a virginity test when she was detained, reacts after a military court in Cairo acquitted an Egyptian army doctor accused of forcing detained women to undergo such tests. Credit: EPA