EGYPT: Woman denies military’s claims about ‘virginity test’
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A high-ranking Egyptian military official Wednesday denied reports by CNN the day before that the military had conducted “virginity tests” on female protesters in March, according to Al Ahram newspaper.
An unidentified Egyptian general had told CNN that the military conducted the tests, and said they were justified, to prevent rape allegations. His account confirmed earlier reports by London-based human rights group Amnesty International.
The military official quoted in Al Ahram on Wednesday, who also was not named, called on the media ‘to practice precision before publishing these accusations, and tarnishing the name of the armed forces with such accusations that seek to cause a rift between the army and the people.’
Amnesty International officials reported that some in a group of 18 women detained March 9 in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square were subjected to ‘virginity tests’ as well as beatings, electric shocks and strip searches as male soldiers looked on. This week, they called for an investigation by the Egyptian government into the alleged abuses. Late Wednesday, about 100 people gathered outside a meeting of the country’s ruling military council, many hoisting signs calling for the military to address the issue.
One of the women who appeared on CNN, 20-year-old Salwa Hosseini, spoke with Babylon & Beyond on Wednesday about the controversy and what she wants now from the government:
What were you doing in Tahrir Square when you were detained?
I had followed Moustafa [her fiance] to the October 6 bridge. There were gunshots, stones thrown from the bridge, and soldiers. There was a tank on the bridge, and I refused to move. I screamed, ‘You will have to kill me!’ After things calmed down, I found Moustafa and we went back to the square, but a big man with broad shoulders stopped us. I could hear other plainclothes officers all around saying, ‘She’s the one -- arrest her!’ They turned me over to the military at the [Egyptian] Museum. This was at 4 p.m.
What happened to Moustafa?
I screamed his name. They arrested him and electroshocked him.
What happened when you were with the soldiers at the museum?
They broke my mobile [phone]. I could not believe that -- I thought the military and the people were one hand. There were 17 girls with me and 174 men. They handcuffed us with plastic handcuffs. We stayed until 7 p.m.
What happened next?
We were taken to the military court. When we were searched, they told us we would be tested [for virginity] and any girl who lied would be taken to court.
What did you think at the time? I was scared they would lie and tell me I was not a virgin and shock me.
How were you treated by the soldiers?
Soldiers beat me when I told the other women not to be afraid. When we were in the room [holding cell], soldiers were taking photographs. Girls were covering their faces, but I did not cover mine. I said, ‘Hold up your head, you are Egyptian’ [a common protest chant among revolutionaries]. ... The guards called us bastards, prostitutes, they cursed our families.
What about female soldiers?
I was strip-searched by a woman in a room. I asked her to close the window and doors, and she refused. After I was naked, I saw a guard in the window, taking photos. I screamed, and he ran away. Then the woman searching me said she would call the guard to shock me if I kept insisting she close the window and doors.
How was the test conducted?
A man made me take off my underwear and examined me.
Did he touch you?
Yes. He used two fingers.
Was anyone else there?
The virginity test took place in front of guards and military officers.
Did you request a female doctor?
Yes. I wanted a woman, not a man, and not all these men around.
What did the military officers say?
They electroshocked me.
Did all 18 women take the test?
No. They made us sign a document saying we were virgins. About 10 of them did not sign it. One of them lied.
What happened to her?
They tortured her.
How did people react when you first told your story?
People didn’t believe us. Some people think the military is like their parents. If this hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t believe it either.
What about now?
Once the military said I was a liar; now they say it happened. They are confused. They don’t know what to say.
What do you think of the Egyptian general who said the tests showed all the women detained were not virgins?
I am willing to do the test again so you can see the result.
What about his comment that the tests were justified to prevent you from claiming later that you had been raped in custody?
If that is their rationale, they did this to protect the military, why did they do it in front of men, with a male doctor?
How have people reacted since you spoke out on CNN?
I see the bad comments on Google, people saying things about me. But [in person] everyone is compassionate to me. A lot of women tell me they are happy I said something. They say, ‘We are all with you.’ I am surprised other girls who were arrested have not spoken out. Maybe they were threatened.
You received a suspended one-year sentence for protesting, which you are fighting as you also try to clear your name. Have you hired a lawyer?
No. The people are with me and this is stronger than any lawyer.
— Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Nagham Osman in Cairo
Upper photo: Salwa Hosseini, 20, says she was subjected to a ‘virginity test’ by the Egyptian military after she was detained March 9 during post-revolution protests in Tahrir Square. Credit: Molly Hennessy-Fiske
Lower photo: Egyptian activists shout slogans as youths met members of the military council in Cairo on Wednesday. Credit: Khaled Elfiqi / EPA