Friend of witness in Fairmont case swept up in backlash arrests, ordered detained

At least one of the defendants swept up in a series of backlash arrests related to the Fairmont rape case was ordered detained for an additional 15 days on Wednesday, according to his family members who spoke to Mada Masr. 

On Monday, the Public Prosecution ordered three people, including one of the witnesses to the 2014 Fairmont rape, be detained for four days pending investigations. It is not yet confirmed whether the other two also received 15-day detention orders. Four others who were detained were ordered released on 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. Four of them — three women and one man — had previously come forward willingly with testimonies and information as witnesses in the case, sources within the campaign for the arrest of the accused rapists told Mada Masr. The arrests and detentions have come alongside a major smear campaign targeting witnesses and campaigners in the Fairmont rape case that circulated in pro-state media outlets.

The prosecutor’s statement on Monday did not specify the charges that the detainees are being investigated for. Yet a source working on the campaign to arrest the accused rapists told Mada Masr 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.

A family member of Seif Bedour, the defendant who received the 15-day detention order, described to Mada Masr how two of them were taken into custody. Last Thursday evening, one of the witnesses in the case was surprised by repeated loud banging on the door of her home. She called the police who arrived hours later and took her to the police station to take her testimony about the incident, the family member said. Bedour, 21, who is a friend of the witness and was with her at the time, insisted on accompanying her to the station.

After police spent several hours compiling the report, the phones of both the witness and Bedour were switched off. The family had no knowledge of their whereabouts until they appeared at the Public Prosecution office in Rehab on Sunday at dawn. Bedour was reportedly shocked that he was being charged, and even more so that the charges were unrelated to the Fairmont case.

Bedour’s mother told Mada Masr the family was taken aback by the prosecutor’s order to detain him for 15 days on charges of drug use and debauchery, adding that he was not caught committing any crime nor is there any evidence against him. The prosecutor ordered drug testing and physical examinations for the defendants on Monday, and Bedour’s mother denounced the decision to renew his detention before the forensic report was issued. The prosecution’s statement did not state the purpose of the physical examination.

Two other sources within the campaign told Mada Masr that Bedour has nothing to do with the Fairmont case or investigation, and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Bedour’s mother was surprised that her son was not released despite the absence of any serious investigation or evidence and despite the lack of any connection between him and the Fairmont incident, which took place in 2014 when he was 14 years old. She added that he had been living outside Egypt for the past three years.

Meanwhile, actor Noha al-Amrousy, the mother of Nazli Mahmoud, one of the arrested witnesses took to social media on Tuesday, blasting the arrest as a retaliation against her daughter for “coming forward to seek justice.” Amrousy told Mada Masr that among the charges her daughter faces are practicing immorality and publishing false news. 

Amrousy told Mada Masr that her daughter was arrested because she had been married to Amr al-Komy, one of the accused by social media accounts of perpetrating the 2014 gang rape, for 12 years and that he had filmed her daughter participating in sexual acts and leaked the footage without her consent.

This week’s arrests of witnesses in the case were accompanied by a major smear campaign in media outlets affiliated with Egyptian security agencies targeting witnesses and campaigners in the case. 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.” 

The Fairmont rape case and the ongoing  smear campaign to discredit those working on it have gripped media attention for weeks.

Allegations of a gang rape at the Fairmont hotel in 2014 involving some of the country’s elite and powerfully connected young men first appeared on social media in late July, in the midst of an outbreak of social media reporting, spearheaded by an Instagram account called Assault Police, of  accusations of sexual assault, harassment and blackmail by Ahmed Bassam Zaki, a university student in his early 20s. 

Zaki was arrested in early July and on Tuesday, the Public Prosecution referred him to Criminal Court to face trial on charges of sexual assault of three underage girls. According to the prosecutor’s statement, Zaki threatened the three girls, in addition to another girl, with revealing matters that “violate their honor” while demanding they continue having sex with him. 

Zaki is also accused of sexually harassing two of the girls through social media as well as violating the privacy of one of the girls by photographing her while kissing her without her consent. He is also accused of using telecommunication devices and social media networks in committing crimes, and of possessing cannabis with the intention of consuming it.

After Zaki’s case, Assault Police played a key role in first revealing allegations of a gang rape at the Fairmont Hotel in 2014. After putting out a call for testimony and information on the Fairmont incident in July, 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. 

As furor over the Fairmont allegations grew, the National Council for Women asked the campaigners to encourage women to come forward with testimonies and information related to the case, saying it could offer them protection and anonymity, sources within the campaign told Mada Masr. 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.

On August 27, one of the defendants, Amir Zayed, was arrested while trying to leave the country and three days later, another defendant, Omar Hafez, was also arrested. Both were ordered to be held in remand detention pending investigations into the case. Among those who fled, three were arrested by Lebanese authorities last week, in accordance with Egypt’s Interpol notice. 

Meanwhile, the National Council for Women has come under fierce criticism for remaining silent about the arrests of witnesses. Since the Zaki case, the council had publicly encouraged women to come forward with testimonies and information regarding sexual violence and the Fairmont case in particular, assuring women that it would offer them anonymity as they lodged complaints with prosecutors. One activist told Mada Masr the council directly asked her to “bring girls to them.” 

Several civil society figures, rights lawyers, and Instagram influencers published posts directly addressing the council and its president, Maya Morsi, lambasting their silence on the matter. “How long will you keep hiding and not returning the calls of the terrified women you encouraged to come forward and promised protection to?” lawyer Azza Soliman, who represented the victim in the Fairmont rape case at an earlier stage, wrote on her Facebook page

Far from responding to the criticism, the council on Tuesday announced the launch of a platform to collect testimonies from survivors of sexual violence called “Shakwitek” or “Your Complaint” in cooperation with the Information Ministry. The statement said the platform would receive complaints of violence against women though an email and a WhatsApp number and that the joint platform aimed to spread awareness of women’s issues with an emphasis on preserving the “moral values of Egyptian society.”

Meanwhile, after a noticeable silence over the weekend, several social media accounts that had been agitating for the arrest of the men accused in the Fairmont rape resumed their activity, warning people not to spread the rumors circulating in the smear campaign, imploring social media users to report any personal photos of the witnesses of the victim on social media. A campaign to support the Fairmont witnesses started on Twitter on Tuesday.

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