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Egyptians decry ‘virginity tests’ on protesters

Egyptian protesters carry national flags and banners as they call for the replacement of the ruling Armed Forces Council by a civilian council during a rally in the port city of Alexandria, Egypt, May 27, 2011. (Xinhua-Yonhap News)
Egyptian protesters carry national flags and banners as they call for the replacement of the ruling Armed Forces Council by a civilian council during a rally in the port city of Alexandria, Egypt, May 27, 2011. (Xinhua-Yonhap News)

CAIRO (AP) ― Activists and bloggers are pressing Egypt’s military rulers to investigate accusations of serious abuses against protesters, including claims that soldiers subjected female detainees to so-called “virginity tests.”

Bloggers say they will hold a day of online protest Wednesday to voice their outrage, adding to criticism of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took control of the country from ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February.

In the face of the criticism, four journalists along with a prominent blogger were summoned for questioning by the military prosecutor, according to a rights group. The blogger and two journalists were released without charges. The other two journalists will appear before prosecutors by the end of week.

Hossam el-Hamalawy, the blogger, tweeted: “The visit to the military prosecutor became a chat, where they wanted clarifications for my accusations.”

The virginity test allegations first surfaced after a March 9 rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that turned violent when men in plainclothes attacked protesters and the army intervened forcefully to clear the square.

One woman who was arrested spoke out about her treatment, and Amnesty International further documented the abuse allegations in a report that found 18 female detainees were threatened with prostitution charges and forced to undergo virginity tests. They were also beaten up and given electric shocks, the report said.

Egypt’s military rulers have come under heavy criticism from the youth protest movement, which is upset at the pace of reforms that they hope will lead Egypt to democracy.

Leaders of more than 20 youth groups on Tuesday turned down an invitation from the military government for a “national dialogue” meeting on Wednesday, saying it was hastily called while human rights violations and attempts to silence critics continued. The invitation was issued two days before the conference was to be held.

“The way revolutionary groups were invited to the dialogue indicates lack of seriousness in dealing with them,” the groups said in a statement. “We can’t accept this dialogue in light of the military trials of revolutionaries, violations of military police, lack of investigations into those.”

Since Mubarak’s fall on Feb. 11, the military has led crackdowns on peaceful protests, and critics accuse it of failing to restore security in the streets or launch serious national dialogue on a clear path forward for Egypt.

The military council denied soldiers attacked protesters at the March 9 rally. But one general used a news conference to make negative remarks about women who mingle with men during the sit-ins and suggested lewd acts were taking place in protest camps.

“There were girls with young men in one tent. Is this rational? There were drugs; pay attention!” Gen. Ismail Etman, the council spokesman, said at the end of March.

He confirmed then that the military police arrested 17 female protesters among 170 others at the March 9 rally. He said the women were among a group of protesters given one-year suspended prison sentences.

“We secure the people. We don’t use the violence,” he said.

At the peak of the protests, the now-ousted regime sought to characterize the protesters as a group of rambunctious youth more intent on spreading chaos than genuine reform. Even after Mubarak’s ouster, that notion carries some resonance in Egypt’s conservative society, where the idea that unmarried women would spend the night with strangers -- albeit in public -- carried the tacit implication that the women were loose.

One of the women arrested, Salwa el-Husseini, gave a detailed account at a news conference in March of her treatment and said she was made to undergo a virginity test.

She said she was slapped in the face and subjected to electric shocks in her legs before being taken to a military prison.

“When we went to the military prison, me and the girls, we were placed in a room with two doors and a window. The two doors were wide open,” she said. “The girl takes off all her clothes to be searched while there were cameras outside filming to fabricate prostitution charges against us later on,” she added.

“The girl who says she is single, she undergoes a test by someone; we don’t know if he is a soldier or some kid on their behalf,” she said.

Amnesty said in its report that one of the women told her jailers she was a virgin but was beaten and given electric shocks when the test supposedly proved otherwise.

“Forcing women to have ‘virginity tests’ is utterly unacceptable,” the Amnesty report said. “Its purpose is to degrade women because they are women.”

The military council has promised to return the country to civilian rule after elections later this year, but some Egyptians fear the council is adopting the same autocratic ways that characterized Mubarak’s rule. They point to what they say are attempts by the council to make any criticism of the military taboo.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, in a statement Tuesday, said that the questioning of journalists or bloggers was an attempt to silence critics and create “an atmosphere of fear.”

It warned: “The military council is committing a grave mistake if it continues to shut the mouths of those criticizing it. The council is not made up of angels.”

The group also referred to virginity tests, saying that the military council is aware that “those belonging to it have practiced torture against the youth of the revolution and has subjected women to virginity tests.”

Also Tuesday, in a rare move, Egypt’s interior minister ordered an investigation into reports that a detainee was tortured to death in police custody. Torture of prisoners was a main issue that sparked the revolt that toppled Mubarak.

<한글 기사>

이집트軍, 여성 시위대 처녀성검사 시인"

美CNN보도…이집트 당국 "진상조사 중"

이집트 여성 시위대가 군에 체포돼 처녀성 검사를 강요받았다는 국제앰네스티(AI)의 주장과 관련, 이집트군 장성이 이 같은 사실을 인정하고 나서 논란이 다시 불붙고 있다.

31일(현지시각) 미국 CNN방송에 따르면 익명을 요구한 한 이집트군 장성은 군부에 의해 성폭행을 당했다는 여성 시위대의 주장을 듣고 싶지 않았다며 이들이  애초부터 처녀가 아니었다는 것을 증명하고자 군이 처녀성 검사를 했다고 밝혔다.

그는 "군에 구금됐던 이들은 당신이나 내 딸 같은 여성들이 아니다. 이들은 타흐리르 광장의 텐트에서 남성 시위대와 뒤섞여 있었던 여성들이다"며 이들 여성들의'정조 관념'에 문제를 제기했다. 그는 당시 시위대 텐트에서 화염병과 마약을 찾아내기도 했다고 주장했다.

이와 관련해 이집트군 최고위원회는 여성 시위대에 대한 고문과 처녀성 검사 주장에 대한 조사를 진행하고 있다고 밝혔다.

그러나 이집트 안팎에서 이번 사건과 관련된 비판은 좀처럼 수그러들지 않고 있다.

이집트 블로거들은 군부의 행동을 비판하며 6월 1일 온라인 시위를 갖기로 했다.

한 이집트인은 온라인 상에 남긴 글을 통해 여성 시위대에 대한 처녀성 검사가 인권 침해 행위이자 역겨운 일이라고 비판했고, 다른 인권운동가는 군부 스스로 이런 범죄를 저지를 권리가 있다고 확신한다는 사실이 믿기지 않는다고 지적했다.

인권단체들은 온라인 상에서 비난 여론이 일자 군부가 유명 블로거와 언론인을 소환해 조사했으며, 이 가운데 언론인 2명은 아직 석방되지 않은 상태라고 전했다.

국제앰네스티도 이집트 당국이 처녀성 검사를 지시하거나 직접 실행해 옮긴 주체에게 책임을 물어야 한다고 주장했다.

또한 성경험이 없는 여성만 성폭행의 피해자임을 시사하는 이집트군 관계자의 발언은 오래전에 당위성을 잃은 성차별주의적 태도이자 비뚤어진 정당화라고 강력하게 비판했다.

앞서 국제앰네스티는 지난 3월 이집트 군이 반정부 시위의 중심지였던 타흐리르 광장에서 시위대를 해산시키면서 여성들을 구금했고, 이들이 전기고문과 알몸  수색을 당한 것은 물론 처녀성 검사까지 강요받았다고 주장했었다.
한편 이집트에서는 호스니 무바라크 전 대통령의 사임 이후에도 정국 혼란이 이어지고 있다.

이집트 내무부는 시위 이후 한 남성이 경찰 신문 도중 숨진 사건과 관련해 수사당국이 조사에 착수할 것을 지시했다.

이집트 군 최고위원회는 다음 달 1일 청년단체 대표 1천명을 초청해 회동을  가질 예정이었으나 23개 민주화운동 단체는 군부가 대화에 앞서 민간인에 대한 모든 군사재판을 전면 취소하라며 회동 참석을 거부한다고 밝혔다.

이와 별도로 이집트 검찰은 홍해 휴양지 샤름 엘-셰이크에 머물고 있는  무바라크 전 대통령의 건강이 매우 좋지 않은 상태라며 그가 수감생활을 할 만한 상황이 아니라고 전했다.


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