The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) has confirmed allegations made against a prison warden accused of sexually harassing a detained activist, Abir al-Safti, in Egypt’s al-Qanater prison for women. The warden is alleged to have forcibly torn down al-Safti’s underwear, before proceeding to violate her genitals. Egypt’s State Security Court has extended al-Safti’s detention for a further fifteen days.
In its complaint submitted to Egypt’s Attorney General on the 11th of July, the Commission reported: “The prison warden forced Abir to take off her clothes and even her underwear when putting on her prison uniform.” al-Safti refused the warden’s orders, maintaining that the wearing of underwear was not a violation of the prison’s rules. The warden proceeded to forcibly remove al-Safti’s underwear, before tampering with her body and genitals.” The assault continued, “until Abir collapsed into a bout of heavy crying.”
“The Prison Warden Ripped Off Her Underwear”: A Complaint Citing the Sexual Abuse of an Egyptian Activist in Prison
Police arrested al-Safti on the third day of voting in Egypt’s April referendum, on proposed constitutional changes; at the time, al-Safti was one of a number of passengers aboard a bus, stopped by police and ordered to participate in the referendum. al-Safti refused, and was subsequently arrested; she was later added to a list of defendants in case No.674, widely pegged by the media as the “case of the referendum’s detainees.” al-Safti faces a host of charges, including joining a terrorist organisation and the misuse of social media platforms.
Concerned for his daughter’s wellbeing, al-Safti’s father publicly expressed his concern. Fearing the worst, enforced disappearance, Mr. al-Safti submitted a complaint about his daughter’s unknown whereabouts. Not long after, she appeared in front of the State Security Court. It was not Mr al-Safti’s first time fighting for his daughter’s freedom; she was previously detained and accused by the State Security prosecutor of the same charges in May 2018, after she protested the government’s increase on public transit fares. al-Safti was eventually released in January 2019 under precautionary conditions, which included mandatory check-ins at the police station, several times per week.
Meanwhile, the news of al-Safti’s arrest incited a wide array of reactions from political activists and human rights workers, who strongly condemned the sexual abuse al-Safti fell prey to at the hands of the State, declaring that sexual harassment of female detainees is a policy being implemented by the government.
Indeed, a 2017 research paper by the non-governmental organisation ‘Nazra for Feminist studies’ published under the title: “Violence has many prisons: a look into women experiences inside prisons and detention sites in Egypt” reported that Egyptian women are subject to a wide range of violations including physical abuse, noting that “Amongst the security procedures when entering prisons is a bodily inspection of the prisoners; despite the fact that the inspection is carried out by a woman it is conducted in a degrading manner and does not respect the physical safety of the prisoners and their privacy, even reaching the extent of genital inspections to make sure that the prisoners are not hiding weapons, drugs or mobile phones.”
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