Stifling Egyptian civil society: Sexual violence by security forces surges under el-Sisi

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Since the military takeover in July 2013, there has been a surge in sexual violence perpetrated by the security forces in Egypt, asserts a report released today by FIDH.

The report finds that under the current regime, sexual violence targets all those apprehended by the security forces, indiscriminately and regardless of the context in which they were detained. In addition to opponents of General el-Sisi’s regime, victims include members of NGOs, students, women and those perceived as endangering the moral order.

The scale of sexual violence occurring during arrests and in detention, the similarities in the methods used and the general impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators point to a cynical political strategy aimed at stifling civil society and silencing all opposition, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

Based on interviews with victims, lawyers and members of human rights NGOs, the report reveals the involvement of police, National Security Intelligence officers and the military in sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, rape with objects, electrocution of genitalia, sex-based defamation and blackmail.

We were attacked in a raid led by the chief of the Alexandria Criminal Intelligence (Mabahith)... They made us kneel down with our hands behind our heads. Then they took the young women to one side and frisked us with our faces towards the wall, sexually harassing us and insulting us. I tried to remove the hand of one of the Central Security soldiers from my trousers, so then they beat me with their weapons until I could no longer resist. K., an activist from an Egyptian human rights NGO.

Such violence is perpetrated on a massive scale by state security forces, making a mockery of government commitments to make combating sexual violence in Egyptian society a priority. Piecemeal and token measures, including partial legislative reforms and the establishment of a unit within the Ministry of Interior dedicated to fighting violence against women, have had little impact on the spread of this epidemic.

The FIDH report shows that such violence is widely tolerated, with perpetrators, whether state actors or civilians, rarely having to answer for their crimes. Since the July 2014 trial of seven men accused of participating in mob-sexual assaults in Tahrir Square during the inauguration of President el-Sisi in June 2014, there have been no further trials for mob sexual violence. As for the security forces, despite complaints, no officers have been tried for crimes of sexual violence.

The role of the security forces in perpetrating sexual harassment and assault, including during body searches, security checks and in police stations, constitutes a further deterrent to victims filing complaints. The general climate of impunity fosters and fuels further violence by state actors and civilians.

The Egyptian government must immediately put an end to these crimes, committed by actors under their direct authority. They must ensure serious investigations into all allegations and the prosecution and punishment of those responsible in accordance with international standards, said Amina Bouayach, FIDH Secretary General.

While tolerating these crimes, el-Sisi’s regime has also hijacked the fight against sexual violence as a pretext to tighten state security. Since autumn 2013, the government has orchestrated a campaign of repression against LGBT persons. Security forces raided bath houses and detained LGBT persons based on information gathered through internet surveillance and accused them of “debauchery” and
“sexual indecency.” The government justified the arbitrary detention of these individuals, during which many suffered sexual violence, by invoking protection of Egypt’s moral and religious order.

This report supplements information documented in a report published in April 2014 on sexual violence perpetrated against women in the public sphere by civilians, in which FIDH and Egyptian NGOs underlined the State’s failure to effectively investigate and prosecute perpetrators of mob rape, sexual assault and harassment and called for the adoption of ten urgent measures to end violence against women.

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