- During the recent protests against a referendum providing some few democratic rights, Egyptian police forces helped a group of men attacking and abusing tens of women, most of them being journalists. "Don't bother to complain. It serves you right for demonstrating," a police officer told a woman that was beaten, stripped and robbed by pro-government mobs.
The journalists - 12 Egyptians and three foreigners - were among a large number of women physically attacked during demonstrations on 25 May, the day of a constitutional referendum, by police and members of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Protesters called for a boycott as the "democratic reforms" proposed by the government were seen as too limited and as cementing President Hosni Mubarak's hold on power.
Some of the female reporters had their clothes torn off, were groped or otherwise humiliated. Several were hospitalised, according to the press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF). The women were being targeted "because they are both journalists and women in a country where their rights are far from guaranteed," the group noted in a statement today.
Most of the attacks took place in front of the Egyptian National Union of Journalists office in Cairo and near the Saad Mausoleum during protests in support of a call by the opposition Kefaya ("Enough!") movement to boycott the referendum. Most of those attacked were reporting on the events, others were taking part and some were just bystanders.
Nawal Mohamad Ali, of the newspaper 'Al-Guil' ("The Generation"), had gone into the journalists' union building to attend an English class when she was attacked by several former prisoners now working for the regime. They tore off her clothes and exposed her body so people could see and touch her. Some lay on top of her, pretending to have sex. Colleagues who tried to help her and cover up her body were beaten. Her mobile phone, money and jewellery were stolen from her bag.
Iman Taha, 30, formerly with the pro-government daily 'Nahdet Misr', had her pelvis broken when she was beaten up by NDP supporters during a demonstration she was in outside the union offices. She told AFP that police let about 100 men through the security barrier to attack the protesters.
- One of them pinned me against the wall and kicked me twice very hard in the stomach, she said. "I collapsed but he kept hitting me. A policeman told me: 'Don't bother to complain. It serves you right for demonstrating.' The police refused to call an ambulance and then stopped me taking refuge in the union building." She was hospitalised. Journalist Sara Dib, daughter of prominent writer Alaa Dib, was similarly beaten in front of the Saad Mausoleum.
Several pro-government journalists claimed next day that the women had voluntarily taken off their clothes in public. The Egyptian journalists' union however called for the sacking of Interior Minister Habib al-Adli as being responsible for the violence and filed a complaint with the Prosecutor-General.
Hundreds of women dressed in black and wearing white ribbons demonstrated with the support of many men on 1 June, which was declared a national day of "mourning and anger." US President George Bush and many international human rights organisations strongly condemned the 25 May violence. RSF today called on President Mubarak "to end this harassment and see that those responsible for this violence are punished."
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