Witness detentions deface #MeToo movement in Egypt

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Wanting to support his friend who is a witness in the high-profile Fairmont Nile City Hotel rape case in 2014, Seif Bedour accompanied her to a Cairo police station on Aug. 28 where she offered to testify on behalf of the victim.

At the station, Bedour was detained and has been held in jail for four months on morality charges, relatives and activists say, even though the then 14-year-old had no connection and was not at the scene of the alleged rape.

Three sources close to Bedour said he was accused of drug abuse and debauchery.

His lawyer could not be reached for comment. The public prosecution department was not available for comment and the state press centre did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

In addition to Bedour, two others who had come forward to testify in support of the rape victim have also been detained and are being held in prison on the same drug and debauchery charges, sources close to them said.

Three other witnesses who also wanted to testify in support of the victim, including Bedour’s friend, have been released after also being arrested.

The case against Bedour and the witnesses is running alongside those of the suspected in committing the rape at the hotel.

Of nine men accused of the rape, five are under arrest and four are outside the country.

Some human rights activists say the arrests of the witnesses are part of a tendency by authorities to prioritise traditional social morality at the expense of women’s rights.

They say authorities are trying to counter a growing movement against exposing sexual abuse in Egypt that drew comparisons with the international “#MeToo” campaign and helped encourage witnesses to testify about the alleged rape at the Fairmont.

In a statement on Aug. 31, Egypt’s public prosecutors said Bedour, now aged 21, and the five witnesses were being interrogated in connection with “ongoing investigations” in the Fairmont case, without specifying charges.

They said Bedour and the witnesses were tested for drug use, and two were subjected to “medical tests”. In a report published in September, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the tests were anal examinations.

Family and friends have pleaded for the release of Bedour and the two witnesses still being held, saying they did nothing wrong.

“Our lives have completely turned upside down,” Bedour’s sister, Nivan Bedour, said. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)

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