EGYPT: General admits protesters subjected to 'virginity tests'
A senior Egyptian general told CNN Tuesday that officials performed "virginity checks" on women arrested during the uprising that led to former President Hosni Mubarak's ouster, the first time the authorities have admitted they performed such tests during the revolution.
The tests were first reported by the human rights group Amnesty International, weeks after a March 9 protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square in which female demonstrators were allegedly beaten, strip-searched, threatened with prostitution charges and forced to submit to procedures that supposedly determined whether they were virgins.
At the time, Maj. Amr Imam said 17 women had been arrested but denied they had been tortured or had their virginity tested.
On Tuesday, a senior general who asked not to be identified admitted to CNN that military officials conducted virginity tests -- and he defended them.
"The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine," the general told CNN. "These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and [drugs]."
"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," the general said. "None of them were [virgins]."
Salwa Hosseini, a 20-year-old hairdresser and one of the women named in the Amnesty International report, described to CNN how, on the day of the protest, uniformed soldiers tied her up on the grounds of the Egyptian Museum near Tahrir Square, forced her to the ground and slapped her, then shocked her with a stun gun while calling her a prostitute.
"They wanted to teach us a lesson," Hosseini said. "They wanted to make us feel that we do not have dignity."
Hosseini said she was taken with 16 other female prisoners to a military detention center in Heikstep and subjected to a "virginity test."
Hosseini said she did not want to be tested by a male doctor, but her captors threatened her with stun guns until she complied.
"I was going through a nervous breakdown at that moment," she recalled. "There was no one standing during the test, except for a woman and the male doctor. But several soldiers were standing behind us watching the backside of the bed. I think they had them standing there as witnesses."
Some bloggers have announced plans to hold an online day of protest Wednesday about the virginity testing.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has been running the country since Mubarak stepped down, has increasingly faced criticism from the youth protest movement, upset at the government's unwillingness to address past abuses, release political prisoners and prosecute former leaders.
On Tuesday, the military prosecutor questioned a prominent blogger, Hossam al-Hamalawy, after he criticized the ruling military council on a TV talk show.
Military leaders plan to meet with some youth leaders on Wednesday at the El Galaa Theatre in Heliopolis that holds up to 1,000 people, but the meeting has been condemned by protesters on Twitter and Facebook as a ploy.
"They're just going to pick one thousand kids and get in an argument and say the revolutionaries don't know what they want," said Tarek Shalaby, a blogger and social media consultant who was jailed after participating in recent protests and has been tweeting his opposition to Wednesday's meeting.
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo
Photo: Salwa Hosseini, a 20-year-old Egyptian hairdresser and one of the women named in an Amnesty International report about human rights abuses during protests that led to the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak, described to CNN how she was subjected to a "virginity test." Credit: CNN