July 7, 2020 / 3:10 PM / a month ago

Egypt charges student with sex crimes in case that stoked debate

CAIRO, July 7 (Reuters) - Egypt’s public prosecutor has charged a university student with indecent assault of at least three women, including one who was a minor at the time, in a case prompted by a social media campaign that opened up a rare public debate on sex crimes.

Ahmed Bassam Zaki, in his early 20s, was the target of a campaign on Instagram last week from an account that included postings by women accusing him of sex crimes. He is not known to have addressed the accusations publicly and Reuters was not able to locate a lawyer representing him.

Zaki faces charges of “attempting to have sex with two girls without their consent and indecent assault against both of them and a third girl” between 2016 and 2020, as well as blackmail, the public prosecutor said. One of the alleged victims was under 18 at the time.

Zaki was arrested on Saturday. The public prosecutor said late on Monday that a court had ordered him detained for 15 days.

The case has attracted widespread attention from media, religious figures and women’s groups in a country where rights defenders say sexual harassment or abuse often goes unpunished.

The legal system is commonly used to enforce conservative social mores, which some say places more blame on women accused of provoking sex crimes than on men for committing them. Several women are being prosecuted for “promoting debauchery” online as influencers on the social media platforms TikTok and Instagram.

Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim authority, appealed for victims to speak out and be supported.

“Women’s clothing - whatever it is - is not an excuse for attacking their privacy, freedom and dignity,” it said.

Zaki’s case is “a message for every girl and woman to be assured that her right, no matter how late, will not be lost”, said Maya Mursi, head of Egypt’s National Council for Women. (Reporting by Haitham Ahmed and Mahmoud Mourad, Editing by Aidan Lewis and Peter Graff)

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