CAIRO (AP) – Hundreds of Egyptian activists rallied in Cairo on Friday, lambasting a recent military tribunal ruling that cleared a military doctor of charges he forced a “virginity test” on female activists.
The issue of the virginity tests has become a rallying cry by pro-democracy youth activists who say it is an example of how the revolution they helped bring about has been hijacked by the military generals who took power after the mass uprising last year forced longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak to step down.
The generals have been harshly criticized for rights violations and practices, such as the “virginity tests,” that resemble those of security forces under Mubarak.
Protesters carried pictures of Samira Ibrahim, the young female activist who went public about the virginity test. Her decision to come forward has challenged social taboos in the Arab Muslim world where female victims of sexual abuse are often more vilified than their abusers.
Ibrahim filed a lawsuit against a military doctor accusing him of subjecting her to a “virginity test” last year after she was detained by the army during a protest.
“You are more honorable than those who humiliated you,” chanted a crowd of protesters that included male and female activists.
One demonstrator carried a poster of a woman with a hand on her mouth symbolizing the way women in Egypt are forced to remain silent in the face of assaults.
“We don’t want Egyptian women to be treated as second class citizen,” read the poster.
The virginity test allegations first surfaced after a March 9 rally in Cairo last year that turned violent when men in plainclothes attacked protesters, and the army cleared the square by force. The rights group Human Rights Watch said seven women were subjected to the tests.
A military tribunal cleared the doctor on Sunday, citing contradictions between witnesses’ testimonies. Ibrahim has said she intends to bring a lawsuit against the military in an international court, as she only has a slim chance of winning an appeal.
“I am determined to prosecute them,” Samira told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. “I will not give up, and I will file lawsuits against them before international courts.”
She was the only one of the seven women who spoke out and gave detailed accounts of the incident.
Samira, who covers her hair in the style of conservative Muslims, says speaking about the incident has carried a stiff price tag.
“The case affected my job and my reputation because it was not OK for me to go public and speak up,” she said.
Ibrahim won an earlier lawsuit in December when a civilian court ordered the country’s military rulers to stop the use of “virginity tests” on female detainees. The decision was a rare condemnation by a civilian court of a military practice.
The court based its ruling on comments made by a member of the ruling military council to Amnesty International in June. The international rights group said Maj. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which runs the country, justified the tests as a way to protect the army from rape allegations.
The rights group said al-Sisi vowed the military would not again conduct such tests. The military has not commented on Amnesty International’s report.
In the year since Mubarak’s ouster, scores of people have been killed in explosive street protests against the military. Much of that violence has been directed at women including scenes of soldiers dragging women by the hair, stomping on them and stripping one half-naked in the street.
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