Egypt Denies Times Report That Officials Sexually Abused Women


CAIRO — The Egyptian government has denied a report by The New York Times that women who encounter the country’s justice system risk sexual abuse during searches by state authorities.

The Times found a dozen women who said they were sexually violated by officials in police stations, prisons and hospitals. Experts said that anecdotal evidence suggested that such incidents occur frequently.

In a statement posted on Facebook and Twitter on Friday, the government “denied the validity” of the accusations by the women, saying they were part of an effort “to spread rumors and lies.”

The brief statement by the Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police and prisons, also said that accusations of “systemic physical violations” against female detainees were false.

The statement did not identify the security source, indicate whether the women’s claims had been investigated, or offer an explanation for the denial of a systemic problem.

The government did not respond to a request for more information about the statement.

The women interviewed for the Times article stand by their stories, which are consistent with years of complaints of sexual abuse of women by the police and other justice officials. Human rights groups have documented similar cases.

A police officer quoted in the article said that sexual abuse of women by legal authorities was “everywhere,” and that the aim was not to gather evidence but to “humiliate your humanity.”

After the military strip-searched at least 18 women at a protest in 2011 and subjected them to so-called virginity tests, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who was then the head of military intelligence, promised to “change the culture of the security forces” and “protect detainees against ill treatment.”

The Times article showed that a decade later, those changes have not been made.

Since the article was published last week, Egyptian human rights groups have praised the women at the center of the story for coming forward.

One human rights lawyer, Negad el-Borai, publicly called on the country’s top prosecutor to open an investigation and asked Parliament to introduce legislation to “guarantee that what was reported would not be repeated.”

Websites affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned political group that has been designated a terrorist organization by Egypt, seized on the testimonies. One website, Rassd, copied and repackaged parts of the interviews into a video, sprinkling in additional photographs of women who appeared to be getting arrested or beaten by Egyptian security forces.

The video has had more than 700,000 views and was shared by an Egyptian dissident whose criticism of Mr. el-Sisi inspired a rare wave of antigovernment protests less than two years ago.

Most of the women interviewed for the article requested anonymity but four spoke on the record. Two were outspoken critics of the government.

Asmaa Abdel Hamid, who was arrested in 2018 after protesting an increase in subway fares, said she was subjected to invasive searches three times, including being forced to undress in front of a group of officers, subjected to a so-called virginity test, and penetrated anally by a prison guard using her finger wrapped in a plastic bag.

Malak Elkashif, a transgender woman, was arrested in 2019 after protesting government negligence following a deadly train crash. She said that she was ordered to undress in front of an officer and was subjected to an invasive anal exam in a supposed effort to determine her sex.

Both women have expressed concern that the government’s statement could be a prelude to retaliation.

Days after he posted his demand for an investigation, Mr. El Borai, a former member of the National Council for Human Rights, removed the post, citing fears by the women featured in the article that an uproar would lead to their arrest.

For many, it was the first time they had spoken publicly about their experiences. Ms. Abdel Hamid and Ms. Elkashif took the additional step of disclosing their identities, and appeared on camera to tell their stories.

“As a way to overcome and document these experiences, I decided to tell my story to you now,” Ms. Abdel Hamid said in the interview. “I really need to tell it.”

The New York Times

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