By Jihad Abaza
The first court hearing for 12 men suspected of sexual assault and harassment in Tahrir Square, during celebrations for President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s election and inauguration, started on Wednesday.
The defendants, appearing at Cairo Criminal Court, are charged with sexually assaulting, kidnapping, physically torturing, and attempting to rape and murder the female victims. Should the accused be convicted of the crimes, they may be sentenced to life in prison.
The charges related to five separate cases that allegedly took place on 3 June and 8 June, during large celebratory gatherings in Tahrir Square. These took place on the days presidential results were announced, and later when President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was inaugurated.
“We hope that the attention the state is giving to sexual harassment cases is not just a temporary response to please public opinion,” said Mostafa Mahmoud, a lawyer working with the Nazra Center for Feminist Studies.
“There have always been cases of sexual assault that the state did not give any importance to,” he said, “This is not the first time sexual assault takes place in Tahrir, and we have spoken up about this before, but people thought we were exaggerating.”
On 14 June, the prosecutor general closed off investigations in the case and referred the 12 men to the urgent criminal court.
The judge has ordered the trial be held in secret for the defendants’ privacy, with lawyers demanding a precursory EGP 10,000 as temporary reparation for the victims, Mahmoud said.
However, Forensics Authority spokesman, Hisham Abdel Hameed, claimed that women were subjected to “indecent assault” and not rape on 8 June.
Shortly before Al-Sisi was declared president, former Interim President Adly Mansour approved a new law allowing for harsher legal punishments for sexual harassment.
The amended law is to make sexual harassment as a punishable crime which, depending on the degree of harassment, could result in six months to five years in prison. The harasser could also be fined between EGP 3,000 and EGP 50,000.
More recently, on 23 June, a Nasr City Court sentenced two men to two years in jail after they verbally harassed a woman in a mall. On the 22 June, a misdemeanour court issued a one year labour sentence and a fine of EGP 3,000 to a man for taking a picture of a woman sleeping in a public bus.