An administrative court ruled Tuesday that so-called “virginity tests” on women in the custody of the military are illegal.
Nine months ago, seven young women were forced to undergo “virginity tests” while in military detention after being arrested with 174 protesters in Tahrir Square on 9 March. One victim, Samira Ibrahim, filed a lawsuit against the military for conducting the test, which many local and international human rights groups said amounted to torture and sexual assault.
“I want to tell all the girls who are scared to go down and protest on 25 January,” said Ibrahim, as she celebrated the verdict. She hopes that the court’s decision will protect other girls from her ordeal and encourage women to participate in political life.
“We filed the case out of fear for all the girls involved in political life,” says Ahmed Hossam, a lawyer from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who represented Ibrahim in the case. “We wanted to keep this from happening to more girls.”
Following the verdict, the state-run newspaper Al-Ahram quoted the head of the military judiciary as saying that it is inapplicable because there are no military laws allowing the practice.
The practice, however, was legally justified before this verdict by a vague clause in laws pertaining to military prisons, which allow medical tests on suspects.
Some of the seven girls spoke up about their incarceration and humiliating conditions at the hands of the army. The girls testified to undergoing the so-called tests in open areas with officers watching.
The military initially denied that the assaults took place, but an anonymous general told the CNN in April that the girls were forced to undergo the virginity tests in order to prevent them from accusing the military of raping them later. SCAF member Adel Emara said last week that members of the military are being tried for their role in the events.
Ibrahim was the only one of the seven girls to press charges against the military.
Hundreds stood outside the court on Tuesday in support of Ibrahim as they awaited the verdict. Members of the Salafi Front in Egypt joined the protest, holding red banners that read “Egypt’s girls are a red line.”
As soon as the judge announced the verdict, the courtroom erupted in celebration and chants against military rule.
“This is the first of many steps,” said Ibrahim. “I hope that we are victorious in the other steps as well.”
This is the first of three cases that Ibrahim’s lawyers have filed against the military in relation to her time in military detention.
The second case, which is scheduled to be heard on 7 February, would reverse Ibrahim’s trial in a military court and order her to be retried in a civilian one. Ibrahim was released along with the other detainees with a suspended one-year sentence after being convicted by a military court of attempting to assault army officers, breaking curfew, obstructing traffic and other charges.
According to Hossam, another case is being heard in a military court against the soldier who conducted the virginity test on Ibrahim. The next session is scheduled for 3 January.
In his explanation of the verdict, the judge said that the court believes “virginity tests” are a criminal offense that should be punished by law.
Still, Hossam said, justice may not come to Ibrahim’s assailants immediately. The verdict, while preventing future “tests,” does not necessarily enforce prosecution of those who committed the crime in the past.
Since there are no civil rights lawyers in military courts, neither Ibrahim nor Hossam have legal standing in the case and are not allowed to attend the sessions.
The military prosecutor charged the soldier with indecent behavior, a much milder charge than sexual assault, which is what Hossam wanted the charge to be.
Ibrahim marched in celebration to Tahrir Square, raising her hand with the victory sign with her supporters chanting, “Raise your head high, Samira, you are better than those who mistreated you!”
Male protesters formed a cordon around the females celebrating with Ibrahim on the way to Tahrir, exhibiting what seems to be a newly found protectiveness towards women that was instigated by military assaults that started with the virginity tests and culminated in the recent clashes in Qasr al-Ainy Street, where some women were dragged, assaulted and stripped by military.
“Egypt’s politically active women are being targeted on purpose, this is still the first round, and we will keep going until we end the military rule,” said Hossam.