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Disappointed but not surprised, lawyers and supporters of Samira Ibrahim blamed a verdict issued Sunday acquitting the military doctor that Ibrahim accused of carrying out a so-called “virginity test” on her and six other women last year on the fact that the case was heard in the military judiciary.
Following the verdict, Amnesty International issued a statement saying this is proof of the military judiciary’s incapability to handle human rights violations.
“This decision is not only a travesty of justice but further proof that cases of human rights abuses by the military should be dealt with in civilian courts,”said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, in the statement.
Adel Ramadan, a lawyer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which represented Ibrahim in the case, said that as a civilian facing a military defendant in a military court, Ibrahim did not stand a chance.
“We insist that we have enough evidence to prove the occurrence of ‘virginity tests,’ but we need a true independent judiciary to go to, and not a body that is part of the military, which is involved in the crime,” said Ramadan, adding that the military judiciary is designed to offer protection for the military and gives no rights to the civilian side in the case.
Nearly a year after Ibrahim’s lawyers filed the lawsuit in the military court, the military judge announced Sunday that the defendant, Ahmed Adel, was innocent of charges of indecent behavior and disobedience of military orders.
The military judiciary system only allows lawyers to represent the defendant but not the plaintiff. With no official standing in the case, Ibrahim’s lawyers say that they faced difficulties through all the stages of the case because they were only able to advise the military prosecutor, rather than try the case themselves.
Ramadan says they consider the military prosecutor an adversary rather than an ally.
In March 2011, Ibrahim and other women announced that they had been subjected to “virginity tests” during their incarceration in military prison after being arrested while protesting in Tahrir Square on 9 March 2011.
Human rights lawyers filed a case against Adel, who was identified by the victims as their assailant, in April of last year in the military prosecution, accusing him of sexual assault.
Eight months later, the case started being heard in a military court after the military prosecutor had downgraded the charge to indecent behavior, a misdemeanor.
“The role of the media and civil society is what pressured the military court to start hearing the case, but we didn’t have a lot of hope since we don’t consider the military judiciary neutral,” says Ramadan.
In addition to the judge, the prosecution and the defendant, all the eyewitnesses who exonerated the defendant are members of the military.
The state-run daily Al-Ahram reported that while announcing the verdict, the judge said that he based his ruling on the eyewitness accounts of military prison employees who denied that the incident took place, in addition to contradictions in the accounts of Ibrahim’s witnesses.
“The case does not include any indicting evidence; all the witnesses that were brought in to testify against the defendant denied the incident,” said Mohamed Desouky, the lawyer the doctors syndicate appointed to represent Adel.
Ramadan, however, says that the contradictions in eyewitnesses’ accounts that the judge referred to only involve the names of the employees present during the tests, which he said the victims are not expected to know, while their accounts of the details of the incidents match.
Civilian testimonies supporting Ibrahim’s case were disregarded because they were not enough to counter testimonies in favor of the defendant, Desouky said.
Another virginity test victim testified in the case, in addition to Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef, activist Mona Seif and CNN journalist Shahira Amin. All testified to being informed by three different members of the ruling military council that the virginity tests occurred.
An administrative court issued a verdict in December, based on a case filed by Ibrahim, banning future virginity tests on female detainees in military courts. At the time Ibrahim’s lawyers said that due to the separation between the military and the civilian judiciary, the verdict would not help prosecute the doctor in military court.
“Unfortunately, the Egyptian law gives immunity to military officers in case they commit a crime against civilians, as the military court is the one that views the case, and the general prosecutor has no power over it,” says Ramadan.
Despite the ruling from a civilian court against virginity tests, Desouky said that Sunday’s verdict from the military court does not only acquit the defendant but it denies the occurrence of virginity tests in military prisons at all.
“At the doctors syndicate, if anything like that had occurred we would punish the doctor internally. We discussed the witnesses as a neutral side because this is an issue that touches on the dignity of women,” said Dessouky. “But nothing was proven.”
A staggering contradiction appears between the prosecution of the military doctor in ten sessions over the course of three months, and the ones that thousands of civilians who have been tried in military courts throughout the last year received, which those that were released said only lasted for a few minutes.
“The military court is allowed to hear cases involving civilians but the civilian judiciary is not allowed to hear cases involving military even when the victims are civilians,” says Ramadan.
Ramadan also says that important evidence that Ibrahim’s lawyers were asking for wasn’t admitted in the case by the military prosecution. The lawyers’ demand to include records that indicate who was on shift in the military prison on the day of the incident was ignored. Ibrahim’s lawyer was also not allowed to make a closing statement in the last session of the case.
Only the prosecutor has the right to appeal the verdict. Dismissing him as one of their military opponents, Ibrahim’s lawyers intend to take their case to international courts, they say they are considering turning to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, a regional court that hears cases that have exhausted all national legal avenues.
The head of the military judiciary, Mahmoud Morsy, issued a statement following the verdict saying that it proves that the military judiciary, just like the civilian, does not succumb to any pressure and only rules based on the judge’s conscience.
The verdict evoked angry reactions from activists and supporters of Ibrahim, who has become one of the symbols of resistance in Egypt for standing up to the military.
Ibrahim, who, according to eye-witnesses, cried and fainted after hearing the result of her battle that dragged on for over a year, agreed with commentators that the judgment is an injustice to the country and not to her person.
“No one violated my honor; it’s Egypt’s honor that’s been violated,” Ibrahim posted on her Twitter account following the verdict.