Rights groups: 2 Ramses crackdown detainees subjected to invasive physical exams that amount to ‘torture’

Invasive physical examinations were conducted on two people swept up in the wide-reaching post-Ramses Station arrest campaign, according to rights lawyers, who said the procedures amounted to “torture and sexual violence.”

The examinations conducted on actor Iman al-Helw and trans man Hossam Ahmed, who have been held in custody for nearly one month, saw medical authorities in the Qanater Women’s Prison hospital repeatedly strip both detainees and conduct invasive physical examinations without their consent or any apparent medical basis.

Local rights groups swiftly moved to condemn the procedures in statements issued last week, with lawyers at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) stating that they have taken legal action against those responsible.

While both the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the ECESR have called for Ahmed and Helw’s immediate release, the State Security Prosecution issued 15-day detention renewal orders for both detainees on Saturday, pending investigation into charges of joining an illegal organization and using social media to commit a criminal act.

The defendants are investigated in relation to Case 1739/2018, along with dozens of others who were arrested in the crackdown that has followed public outrage over a deadly train crash at Ramses Station that killed 22 and injured 43.

Ahmed was arrested by security forces from a downtown Cairo coffee shop on February 27,  the day of the crash, while Helw was arrested the following day.

Both detainees were disappeared for several days before they were brought before the State Security Prosecution on March 4, when they were handed detention orders for 15 days.

Following their interrogations that day, the ECESR reported that Ahmed and Helw were sent from the Abdeen Police Station to the Qanater Women’s Prison hospital where a doctor forced them to strip and proceeded to conduct full-body physical examinations, including an examination of their genitals, against their will.

According to the lawyers’ accounts, this procedure was undertaken without an order from the prosecution or a request from the detainees themselves, and there was no medical basis for the examination.

A team of three doctors then forced the detainees to undergo the same procedure again, the ECESR stated. Prison officials subsequently refused to admit them, and sent Helw and Ahmed back to the Abdeen Police Station, where they continue to be held.

On Wednesday, Helw detailed the incident in her testimony to prosecutors, prompting her lawyer to request an investigation into the role of those responsible — including the prison warden and the medical personnel involved — in what the ECESR described as a “crime that violated the detainees’ bodily integrity and dignity, [constitutes] sexual assault, [resulted in] physical and psychological harm and are [acts that are] in violation of the Constitution and criminalized by the Egyptian Penal Code.”

In its statement, the ECESR added that authorities intended to transfer Ahmed to a psychiatric hospital even though he does not have any mental health issues, to which Ahmed’s lawyer responded by asking the prosecution to intervene to prevent this move.

Although Ahmed is in possession of documents from a state hospital outlining his transition, authorities continue to hold him in a women’s detention facility in the Abdeen Police Station, where he has reported consistent abuse.

EIPR lawyer Hoda Nasrallah stated that he has also been denied hormone therapy and that she has requested the prosecution to allow him medication immediately.

Ahmed is one of two transgender individuals who has been subjected to abuse while in detention as part of the recent security crackdown.

Last week, lawyers of trans woman Malak al-Kashif — who is being detained as part of the same case — reported that she had been sexually assaulted and subjected to a forced anal examination by medical personnel in a state hospital.

In a statement issued on March 11, the ECRF called on the Interior Ministry to stop the “inhumane treatment” Kashif is being subjected to, calling it a form of torture. The rights organization called on authorities to immediately release Kashif, adding that the ministry is responsible for any physical and psychological harm she incurs while in police custody.

Forced anal examinations are routinely performed by Egyptian investigators on detainees authorities identify as trans women or gay men. The practice has been widely condemned by human rights organizations as having no forensic value and violating international standards against torture.

The 19 year old has been held in solitary confinement at the Haram Police Station since March 6 when she was arrested from her house in a sting operation.

In the ongoing crackdown, at least 70 people have been arrested across Egypt — mainly in Cairo and Alexandria — for alleged involvement in small-scale anti-government demonstrations in the aftermath of a train crash in Cairo’s Ramses Station that killed 22 people on February 27. The arrests began the same day.

While social media users criticized the government’s lack of investment in railway infrastructure and called for protests following the crash, Mada Masr has not been able to document any protests since the deadly accident.

Many of those detained were apprehended in public spaces in Egypt’s two largest cities, in areas where security forces had been deployed to prevent protests. Several people were also arrested from their homes.

The majority of those detained in the arrest campaign are under 20 years old and do not have any history of political activism, lawyers previously told Mada Masr.

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