Egypt’s top prosecutor referred Saturday 13 men to trial for attempted rape and assault of women during public rallies in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir square, the first implementation of tough new penalties against rampant sexual violence, the state news agency reported.
The speedy trial reflects a government push to address the issue, and comes less than a week after the swearing in of Egypt’s newly elected President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Harassment has long been a problem in Egypt, but assaults have become more frequent and gruesome over the past three years of turmoil.
Since long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011, rallies in Tahrir had witnessed frequent and escalating attacks on women raising concerns from activists that it was an attempt to keep protesters away from a public square that had become a place of dissent. But authorities did little to combat the phenomena then, and independent groups started initiatives to protect women in the square.
The mob assaults last week caused particular public outcry as they came during celebrations of el-Sissi’s inauguration and footage of one brutal attack was widely circulated. That prompted the new leader to make the highest profile condemnation yet of the escalating phenomena and order a crackdown on perpetrators.
Mr. El-Sissi paid a visit to one of the survivors of the violence, issuing what may be the first presidential apology to a civilian and promising her to take tough actions against the attackers.
The First Lady, in her first official function, also paid a visit to the survivor on Friday.
Egypt’s state news agency MENA said the country’s top prosecutor Hesham Barakat referred 13 men to trial for taking part in at least three separate incidents of sexual assault, including one at the inauguration celebration and one from January 2013. One of the defendants is a minor, aged 14.
The men are accused of kidnapping the women, assaulting them, torturing them, robbing them, and attempting to murder and rape them. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The news agency said the prosecutor is also investigating the person who shot and uploaded the video of the attack, calling it a “violation of public decency.”
Egypt asks YouTube to remove video
Egypt asked YouTube to remove a video of the woman being sexually assaulted. YouTube removed copies of the video in which the woman can be identified, but is allowing other versions that blur her image to remain on the site because the company considers them to be newsworthy. Viewers who want to watch the blurred video also must vouch that they are at least 18 years old.
Egypt only recently criminalized sexual harassment, a much lesser charge than that which the 13 men face.
In one of his last decisions before stepping down, Adly Mansour, Egypt’s interim president and Mr. el-Sissi’s predecessor, decreed sexual harassment a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. The decree issued earlier this month was much-anticipated as a way to combat the abuse, deeply rooted in Egypt. The decree amended the country’s existing laws, which did not criminalize sexual harassment and only vaguely referred to such offences as indecent assault.
Offenders would be prosecuted whether they commit harassment in public or in private, and repeat offenders would see their sentences doubled.
Along with the maximum five-year sentence, offenders can be fined up to 5,000 Egyptian pounds, or about $714, with the maximum fine reserved for harassers who use a weapon or pressure.