Middle East

Egypt 'virginity tests' decried

Crowd of protesters surround soldier in Cairo, 9 March 2011
Image caption The tests are said to have happened after the military cleared protesters from Tahrir Square

Activists have demanded the authorities in Egypt prosecute anyone responsible for subjecting protesters to alleged virginity tests earlier this year.

The pressure comes after CNN quoted an Egyptian general as acknowledging that the military had conducted such tests.

The general said checks were carried out so the women would not later claim they had been raped by authorities.

Amnesty International, which first reported the checks in March, called the comments abusive and insulting.

The human rights group said 18 female protesters arrested after army officers cleared Tahrir Square on 9 March were detained, beaten and given electric shocks.

'Perverse justification'

Of these, 17 were then subjected to strip searches, forced to submit to virginity tests and threatened with prostitution charges, Amnesty said.

At the time, the military - which has been running Egypt since Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February - denied the allegations.

But on Tuesday an unnamed general told CNN that tests were in fact carried out.

"The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine," said the general. "These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters."

He went on to defend the process.

"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," he told the American network. "None of them were [virgins]."

Amnesty called on Egyptian authorities to bring those responsible for ordering or conducting the tests to justice, while condemning the general's comments.

"This admission is an utterly perverse justification of a degrading form of abuse," the group said. "The women were subjected to nothing less than torture."

It added: "This general's implication that only virgins can be victims of rape is a long-discredited sexist attitude and legal absurdity."

Dialogue rejected

The BBC's Jon Leyne reports from Cairo that the case illustrates the continued tension between the ruling military council and the young generation of protesters who led the movement to oust Mr Mubarak.

Activists have complained that Egypt's military rulers are continuing to commit human rights abuses, arrest critics, and put civilians on trial before military courts.

On Wednesday, the youth movement and the ruling military council are due to meet in the first of a series of major public meetings to discuss the way forward for the country.

But more than 20 youth groups said they would boycott the meeting after being invited just two days in advance.

"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, [and] lack of investigations into those."

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