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Allegations of systemic rape in Egypt's prisons

Accusations come in spite of pledge from President Sisi to crack down on sexual violence on Egypt's streets
Protester holds up a knife during demonstration to demand end to sexual violence against women (AFP)

The main support bloc of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi has documented the cases of 54 detained female Morsi supporters who say they were raped inside Egyptian detention facilities, a source from the bloc said Thursday.

"The hearing committees established by the alliance since February have thus far documented the accounts of 54 [women] who have been raped inside police stations, prisoner-transfer vehicles or in other unknown locations," the source, requesting anonymity, told Anadolu Agency.

Some of the girls and women who were allegedly raped underwent abortions after becoming pregnant, the source said, while others were unable to undergo abortions due to the advanced state of their pregnancies.

"Two cases said they had each been raped more than 14 times in one day inside a riot police training camp used as a detention facility," the source said.

"Another case said she was subjected to rape daily for a whole week inside a police station," the source added.

To protect the women's safety, the source declined to provide further information regarding their identities or exactly where the alleged rapes took place.

Egyptian authorities have yet to officially respond to mounting allegations of sexual assault – including rape – being systematically used against Morsi's detained female supporters.

However, a security official, also speaking anonymously, denied the allegations, dismissing them as an attempt by Morsi supporters to "defame Egypt before international public opinion."

"Either they present the cases to the prosecution for investigation, or stop making claims," the official said.

In February, the pro-Morsi National Alliance for the Defense of Legitimacy announced it had established a number of fact-finding committees to look into reports of sexual assault and rape by security forces against female detainees.

The committees consisted of representatives from the pro-Morsi "Women against the Coup" movement and independent rights organizations.

Aya Alaa, a member of Women against the Coup, said the movement had already submitted a report to "relevant political and human rights organizations" containing detailed information on at least 20 females who had allegedly suffered "rape and other extreme violations in police stations and in unofficial detention facilities."

Rape as a weapon

Since Morsi's ouster exactly one year ago, the Egyptian government has launched a relentless crackdown on the jailed president's supporters, leaving hundreds dead and over 41,000 said to be detained, according to an estimate by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), a local NGO.

According to an ECESR report, 597 females – including 75 minors – are among those to have been arrested by security forces over the past year.

Egyptian authorities have not given a total number for all those detained since Morsi's ouster. However, the military-backed government routinely denies that any "political" detainees are being prosecuted, insisting that all those being held face charges of criminal wrongdoing.

The source from the pro-Morsi alliance said the work of the fact-finding committee had been kept out of the media "due to the sensitivity of the matter."

On the other hand, one alleged victim, a college student named Nada Ashraf, appeared in an interview with Al Jazeera's Mubasher Misr news channel (devoted exclusively to Egypt coverage) on Wednesday, saying she had been raped and beaten by a police officer inside a prisoner-transfer truck during the dispersal of a protest earlier this summer at Cairo's Al-Azhar University.

"I was partially stripped of my shirt and pants by the time I was thrown into the vehicle… then the officer boarded the vehicle, took off his pants... and raped me," said Ashraf, 19, who says she is married and has a son.

Ashraf said she had not been taking part in the protest but that the officer had singled her out after she had berated him for sexually assaulting a female demonstrator.

"He was grabbing that girl [the demonstrator] from her breasts as he arrested her," Ashraf said in the Al Jazeera interview.

"I told him, 'Do you think this makes you a man?' So he left the girl and grabbed me in the same way… Before he raped me, he said, 'I'll show you I'm a man'," she recounted.

"My life is destroyed," Ashraf lamented. "Now I fear the thoughts of all men, even my own son and father."

The International Coalition for Egyptians Abroad, a group of expatriate Egyptians created in the wake of Morsi's ouster, announced on Wednesday that it had submitted a memorandum to the United Nations Human Rights Council that contains documentation by several local and international human rights organizations of "incidents of rape and sexual assault against female political detainees" in Egypt.

The memorandum, according to the coalition, includes the testimony of one girl who said policemen had hung her naked from the ceiling of her prison cell and took turns sexually assaulting her.

In other cases, the report says, police stripped several girls of their clothes and "wiped the floor of the prison cells with their naked bodies." Some female detainees have been forced by police to watch pornographic films, according to the report.

On July 3 of last year, Morsi – the country's first freely elected leader – was ousted and imprisoned by the military after only one year in office following massive protests against his presidency.

President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who was declared the winner of a May election, is widely seen as the driving force behind Morsi's ouster and subsequent imprisonment.

Al-Sisi's critics, especially those from Egypt's embattled Islamist camp, hold him responsible for an ongoing countrywide crackdown on dissent.

Under successive governments, Egypt's police apparatus has remained notorious for heavy-handed practices that have been long condemned by local critics and international rights watchdogs.

Trials for rapists

The allegations are in stark contrast to the image that President Sisi has been trying to cultivate in recent months.

On the 14th of June, Egypt's prosecution service referred 13 men to trial for alleged sex attacks on women at Cairo's Tahrir Square, including during inaugural celebrations for the new President.

It was the first time charges have been made in the North African country in connection with mass sexual assaults.

The attacks took place on January 25, 2013, as Egypt marked the second anniversary of the 2011 revolt, and on June 3 and June 8 this year as revellers marked Sisi's election victory and inauguration, the prosecutor general's office said.

The 13 accused, including a minor, are charged with "kidnapping, raping, sexually attacking, attempting to murder and torturing the women", it said.

If convicted of the charges, the defendants could be sentenced to life imprisonment.

On Tuesday June 10, Sisi publicly condemned the sexual violence taking place in Egypt.

"I apologize, and as a state, we will not allow this again,” he said in reference to the Tahrir square attacks.”

“We will take very serious measures. I've come to tell you and all Egyptian women that I'm sorry. I apologize to all of you.”

However, Sisi’s history of implementing virginity tests while head of the military - supposedly to prevent rape accusations against his soldiers - has already soured the water with women’s right advocates.

According to a UN report released in April, 99.3% of women in Egypt have reported some form of sexual harassment, with physical harassment overwhelmingly the most reported complant.