Egyptian women’s rights defender Rasha Azab found not guilty, but persecution of women continues – Middle East Monitor

On Saturday, a Cairo court found journalist and writer Rasha Azab not guilty on charges of insulting, defaming and willfully harming film director Islam Azazi.

The case dates back to December 2020 when the online blog Daftar Hekayat released anonymous testimonies from six survivors who said Islam sexually assaulted them, with one accusing him of rape.

As a prominent advocate for women’s rights, Rasha has tweeted in solidarity with women. In response, Islam sued her and the case was taken to court.

A solidarity campaign has gone viral on social media and several human rights organizations have publicly supported Rasha’s case. Amnesty International has called on the Egyptian authorities to immediately end his persecution.

The pressure worked. But while Rasha’s acquittal over the weekend is welcome news, her ordeal goes to the heart of Egypt’s dismal treatment of outspoken citizens, including those who support women, and the role of the justice system in their persecution.

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Rasha’s lawyer said the evidence presented against her had serious flaws and it is still unclear why the accusation of Islam was taken seriously.

“We don’t know why this matter escalated and went to court,” Rasha said. NOTE. “There are several guesses, but it was interesting that it was kept [on the backburner] for a year with no investigation or proven technical evidence, then he was fired at an alarming rate.”

“My defense team has said that if the provisions of the law are followed without any political interference, I will obtain my acquittal. The documents in the case have serious legal and procedural flaws.”

The Egyptian government routinely prosecutes women on morality charges in retaliation for content they share on social media, says Equality Now, an NGO that advocates for the protection of women and girls, a trend noted by many human rights organizations.

This may include survivors of sexual abuse, as seen in the lawsuit of social media influencer Menna Abdelaziz, who appeared in May 2020 in a live video with a bruised face saying she had been raped and beaten.

Menna was arrested by security forces soon after and spent four months in pre-trial detention for “inciting debauchery” and “violating family principles and values,” familiar charges often leveled by the state. against women to justify their repression.

Women’s rights activist Amal Fathy was sentenced to a year in prison after posting a video on Facebook accusing the Egyptian government of failing to protect victims of sexual harassment while TikTok star Haneen Hossam was sentenced to three years in prison for human trafficking in a retrial earlier this month. after sharing videos of herself syncing songs.

“The chilling effect of defamation cases like this is serious,” said Jorie Dugan, lawyer and legal adviser for Equality Now. NOTE. “Survivors of sexual violence are discouraged from speaking out about their experiences when they see others being prosecuted for speaking out, whether it’s another survivor or a women’s rights advocate like Rasha Azab.”

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Two years ago, a social media campaign erupted after more than 100 women made sexual assault allegations against former AUC student Ahmed Zaki as part of the country’s growing #MeToo movement, who lobbied the Egyptian authorities to end impunity for the perpetrators and punish measures for the victims.

A bill followed soon after that promised to protect the anonymity of sexual assault victims in a bid to encourage more to come forward. But Egyptian authorities have not widely enforced the law and have instead faced rising numbers of women speaking out with state sanctions, including travel bans and jail time.

“Despite recent legislative reforms in Egypt aimed at strengthening women’s rights, sexual harassment and gender-based violence remain rampant across the country,” says Dugan.

Two years have passed since the six women shared their stories with Daftar Hekayat. Authorities have yet to investigate allegations against Islam Azazi and have continued to target and imprison women. But Rasha’s fight for women continues: “I insisted and still insist on supporting anonymity as a right for abused women,” she says.

“I see this decision as the culmination of women’s struggles in Egypt. Survivors of sexual harassment and rape [are] finally smiling, after fear engulfed their hearts. The fear of divulging no longer has a place, and activists also believe that they can now make the voices of the unknown – anonymous survivors – heard without any worry or threat of legal action. This decision closes the door that could have been opened to all rapists and harassers to drive out and silence survivors and solidarity activists.”

The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.