CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian civilian court ordered the army on Tuesday to end forced virginity tests on female detainees in military prisons, and the woman who won the legal victory urged other victims to press charges against the army.
Activists said the verdict was a victory for civilian courts over generals who took charge when Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power by a popular revolt in February.
The ruling also adds pressure on the army to hold to account troops who have been rebuked by Egyptians and major aid donor the United States over the treatment of women during protests.
“I am very happy. This is the first round with the military council and we will win the next rounds, God willing,” Samira Ibrahim, who defied taboos in a conservative Muslim country to raise the case over the tests, told Reuters.
Ibrahim had said she and six other women were forced to undergo tests to see if they were virgins in March after they were arrested during a protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Ibrahim, from the conservative southern city of Sohag, was referred to a military court four days after her arrest. She was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term for insulting authorities, joining an illegal assembly and breaking a curfew.
“I wish I could win the case against the lieutenant who did the test,” said Ibrahim. “They can say what they want, ... I want him to be executed, he and anyone who gave him orders.”
The army also drew fierce criticism this month during protests when women were beaten. Notably, one woman was filmed being dragged by two soldiers as she lay on the ground, her bra and torso were exposed and another soldier stamped on her.
“I tell female activists go to the square and don’t be afraid, this is our square after the scandal the council spread all over the world ... I ask all girls who were abused to file cases against the council,” Ibrahim said.
Washington, which gives Egypt’s military $1.3 billion a year in aid, issued a stinging rebuke of the handling of protests this month. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to “systematic degradation” of women that “disgraces the state and its uniform.”
A general was quoted by CNN as saying earlier this year that tests were carried out on detained women to show they were not virgins and so they could not then allege they had been raped.
A military official later denied such comments were made, but anger at the incident has rumbled on.
“The court orders that the execution of the procedure of virginity tests on girls inside military prisons be stopped,” said Judge Aly Fekry, head of the Cairo Administrative Court in Tuesday’s ruling.
General Adel Morsi, head of the military’s judicial authority, said there was no decision to conduct such tests, so the court ruling could not be implemented. In a statement carried by the official news agency, he said that if tests were carried out, then the individual involved would be prosecuted.
A military judicial official said last week that cases of reported forced virginity tests had been transferred to the Supreme Military Court and that military personnel accused of taking part in violent clashes and human rights violations against protesters would be prosecuted.
Tuesday’s ruling was the second in a week where activists won a favourable ruling in a case involving the army. A judge on Sunday ordered the release of a prominent blogger whom the army had detained in October on charges of “inciting violence and sabotage” during a protest by Christians.
Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said the latest ruling was an important victory for the civilian courts.
“It entrenched some rules including that some measures adopted by the military council can be reviewed by a civilian court, given that the army is part of the government and the judiciary is an independent authority,” he said.
“It helped demonstrate that virginity tests are illegal and thus considered a crime which pushed for advanced steps in having the first soldier being prosecuted for violations.”
He said the army’s response did not address the issue of judicial superiority or say whether they respected such rulings, but he added: “At the same time they didn’t reject it.”