Smear campaign, arrests in blowback over Fairmont rape case

The Public Prosecution ordered three people detained for four days pending investigation into incidents related to the Fairmont rape case, according to a statement released by the prosecutor’s office on Monday night. Three others were ordered released on bail of LE100,000 each and an additional person was ordered released without bail. The news came after a major smear campaign targeting witnesses and campaigners in the Fairmont rape case that began circulating online Monday. 

Since last week, several people other than those accused of rape and assault in the high-profile 2014 gang rape case were detained and held without access to their lawyers. Three of them are women who had come forward as witnesses in the case and were detained on Friday and Saturday, sources close to the campaign for the arrest of the accused rapists told Mada Masr. A fourth person, a man, among those referred to in the prosecutor’s statement had also willingly come forward with testimony prior to being detained, Mada Masr learned on Tuesday. It is still unconfirmed which three were ordered detained by the prosecutor on Monday.

The prosecutor’s statement did not specify the charges that the detainees are being investigated for. A source working on the campaign to arrest the accused rapists told Mada Masr on Tuesday, on condition of anonymity, that the charges included incitement to debauchery, drug use, and working to damage the image of the Egyptian state. One of the women held faces an additional charge of managing a social media account to damage the image of Egypt in collaboration with people outside the country. The source added that the detainees were only allowed access to their lawyers on Monday.

In its statement on Monday, the prosecutor’s office said that all three were being referred to a government laboratory to undergo drug testing. Two of them were referred to forensic doctors for physical examination, although the prosecution’s statement did not state the purpose of the examination. Prosecutors also sent the detainees’ phones to a technical department at the Interior Ministry to download their content and private messages and to retrieve any deleted material.

In a smear campaign targeting witnesses and campaigners in the case, media websites affiliated with Egyptian security agencies published information attributed to the case file, saying that the Fairmont case was “not what it appeared to be” and was in fact a revenge campaign orchestrated by two individuals, one of whom is among the women arrested. The articles framed the party at the Fairmont as a “group sex party” and used homophobic slurs to depict what they called a group of “perverts.” Other websites published private, sexually explicit pictures of the witnesses and others involved in the campaign to arrest the accused that compromised their privacy and identities. Private videos and photos continued to be circulated on social media throughout the day. 

The recent arrests and smear campaign in the wake of the Fairmont case have sent shockwaves through feminist and LGBTQ communities in Egypt, with social media accounts and online solidarity and discussion groups shutting down their accounts in fear of reprisal. Many activists are worried that the ripple effect will smother the women’s movement against sexual violence in Egypt, which was reignited in June.

Allegations of a violent gang rape at the Fairmont hotel involving some of the country’s elite and powerfully connected young men first appeared on social media in late July, and the Public Prosecution issued warrants to arrest suspects on August 24. Two of the men accused of rape and assault were arrested separately, and the other seven had fled the country, according to previous prosecution statements. Among those who fled, three were arrested by Lebanese authorities last week, in accordance with Egypt’s Interpol notice. 

Security forces detained two of the female witnesses on Friday, one from her home in the early hours of the morning, and one from her car. Their lawyers were unable to confirm their whereabouts with the Public Prosecution, according to the source. 

On Saturday, security forces detained a third witness, who had fled her home in Cairo for fear of being detained, according to the sources.

Two women who have been working on the campaign to arrest the accused rapists told Mada Masr on condition of anonymity that the National Council for Women, a government body which had directly offered the women assistance and assurances of protection when they were deciding whether or not to come forward to the prosecution, said the council was not picking up their calls.

 “The National Council for Women asked me to bring these girls to them, to tell them that the Council would protect them if they came forward with evidence, and now they’re detained for these crimes they didn’t commit,” one of the women working on the campaign told Mada Masr on Monday. “When the arrests started, the council said to keep quiet, and that this was just how the authorities did things, that they were looking for more evidence,” she said. “And now the council is not responding to any of us.”  

In late July, a campaign seeking the prosecution of several men whom it publicly accused of involvement in a gang rape at the Fairmont Nile City Hotel in 2014 broke out on social media. The allegations first appeared on Assault Police, a social media account that reported dozens of accusations of sexual assault, harassment and blackmail by Ahmed Bassam Zaki, a 21-year-old university student. Zaki is currently in remand detention on multiple charges of harassment and sexual assault.

After putting out a call for testimony and information on the Fairmont incident, without naming any of the accused or their accusers, the administrators of Assault Police suspended activity on the account and deleted their posts after they reportedly began to receive death threats. Other pages quickly sprang up, including Gang Rapists of Cairo and Catcalls of Cairo.

According to Gang Rapists of Cairo, an anonymous Instagram account that has led the campaign to expose the 2014 assault, at least six men drugged the victim with GHB — commonly referred to as a “date rape” drug — abducted her to a hotel room, took turns raping her, and wrote their initials on the victim’s body. According to the account, the rapists filmed the assault and circulated the video among their acquaintances.

The Gang Rapists of Cairo account stated that it had gathered testimonies suggesting that the accused may be implicated in other acts of sexual violence, and encouraged anyone who had evidence to come forward to the prosecution and not share it with others in order to protect the victim’s rights. 

Gang Rapists of Cairo and other accounts published the names and photographs of the accused, urging their arrest. 

The Public Prosecution’s August 24 announcement that it had issued arrest warrants in the case after official complaints were filed with the National Council for Women did not name the suspects or state the number of suspects. In the prosecutor’s statement two days later, announcing that seven of nine suspects had fled the country, the prosecution claimed that publishing the photos and names of the accused on social media had served to warn them and prompted them to flee before the official investigation began.

“Whenever anyone has asked me how the government was handling the case, I’ve always said they’ve been great and efficient,” a source within the campaign said. “And now they are saying that we are conspirators against the state and its image.”

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