HRW: gang rape witnesses in Cairo arrested, smeared
Two acquaintances of the witnesses were also detained before they were all released on August 31 by the Egyptian prosecutor general, who will press charges against them for violation of “morality” and “debauchery” laws.
These laws have been described as “vague”, “discriminatory”, and “open to abuse”, by HRW, which says that pro-government media have coordinated a smear campaign against the six alleged witnesses. One of the women has also claimed she was abused while in detention.
“It is horrifying that Egyptian authorities have arrested the witnesses to a gang rape after encouraging them to come forward instead of protecting them and prosecuting the attackers,” said Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The case against the witnesses and the smear campaign against them and the rape survivor send a chilling message to survivors of sexual violence and witnesses that they can go to prison if they report sexual violence.”
Authorities should protect witnesses, and persecute the perpetrators of the gang rape, the rights group recommended in the same report.
The investigation into the alleged gang rape at Cairo's Fairmont Nile City hotel was kickstarted by the National Council for Women (NCW) bringing forth allegations from an 18-year-old woman who said she was sexually assaulted at the hotel in 2014.
An investigation by independent media outlet Egyptian Streets compiled a number of testimonies and video evidence from the night at the Fairmont. The report details how the group of alleged rapists held a private after-party in a hotel room following an event at a suite in the same hotel.
The report compiles several testimonies alleging that four men drugged and raped an unconscious 18-year-old woman. The incident was allegedly recorded on video and was widely shared among the perpetrators and their friends.
The report also details how the figures central to exposing the Fairmont incident have been subject to intimidation and even death threats.
A legal complaint has reportedly been filed in relation to at least one other alleged rape carried out by some of the men involved in the Fairmont incident.
The case has stirred a public outcry amid a resurgence of the #MeToo movement, which seeks to hold sexual predators in the deeply conservative country accountable for their actions
The vast majority of Egyptian media outlets have stayed silent on the Fairmont incident, despite growing support for the victims across social media.
Prominent Egyptian figures have joined the calls for justice, including TV presenter Radwa El Sherbiny, who posted about the incident to her 11 million Instagram followers.
UN surveys have found that most Egyptian women have been subject to harassment ranging from catcalling to pinching and groping.
Egypt's parliament earlier this month approved amendments to the criminal code granting victims of sexual assault the right to anonymity.
Egyptian authorities have criminalised sexual harassment since 2014, but many women complain that the problem remains rampant.
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