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Human Rights Watch documents pattern of sexual assaults on protesters

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Beirut, December 22, 2011 - There is an escalating pattern of physical attacks by Egyptian military and police officers against women and male protesters, journalists, and activists in Cairo, some of which are sexual in nature, Human Rights Watch said today. News reports and images of protesters in Cairo being stripped, beaten, and dragged through the street in the past several days are just the latest incidents.

The Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Interior Ministry should order an immediate halt to these attacks, Human Rights Watch said. The Office of the Public Prosecutor, the civilian judicial authority, should speedily, vigorously, and transparently investigate assaults on demonstrators by military and police officers and by civilians, and prosecute those responsible, to put an end to a climate of impunity for sexual crimes.

"Images of military and police who strip, grope, and beat protesters have horrified the world and brought into sharp focus the sexual brutality Egyptian women face in public life," said Nadya Khalife, Middle East and North Africa women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The military and civilian authorities need to put a halt to criminal attacks on demonstrators once and for all."

On December 16, 2011, security forces attacked and beat demonstrators protesting in front of the Egyptian Cabinet. The Health Ministry said on December 19 that 500 protesters or bystanders had been injured since December 16, and 12 were killed. On the same day, news outlets broadcast footage of Egyptian military police beating, stomping on, and hitting protesters with bars, including a veiled woman whose clothes had been torn off, exposing her torso.

On December 19, Gen. Adel Emara commented on the attack of the veiled woman, telling journalists "yes this scene actually happened and we are investigating it. We will disclose the investigation results in full. We do not want to conceal anything." The military cannot investigate itself with any independence, and only an investigation by Egypt's civilian judicial authorities with full cooperation from the military can provide a remedy to all protesters, Human Rights Watch said.

Egyptian women's rights groups, including the New Woman Foundation, that have been documenting attacks on women demonstrators, told Human Rights Watch that at least nine women were arrested during last weekend's protests, and some of them said security forces had physically and verbally assaulted them.

Salma al Naqqash, coordinator of the Women Human Rights Defenders program at Nazra for Feminist Studies, a research group, told Human Rights Watch that there is a pattern of security forces and civilians preventing women from exercising their right to protest. Al Naqqash said that security forces and private individuals have subjected women demonstrators to verbal and physical assault, threatened them with rape in detention, and stripped them in the street to deter them from protesting.

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