egypt alleged isis ties lead to abuse of women
Torture, secret detention, and faulty due process
According to Human Rights Watch and the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, Egyptian authorities have arbitrarily detained women and girls connected to alleged affiliates of the Islamic State (ISIS) in North Sinai, some for months or years.
Additionally, the authorities have imprisoned several women and girls incommunicado for extended periods while torturing them. According to attorneys and witnesses, the detentions were typically undertaken to coerce male family members suspected of having ties to the ISIS affiliate Wilayat Sina’ (Sinai Province) to turn themselves in or to gather information about them. Some of these women and girls were detained after being accused of being raped or forced into marriage by the ISIS-affiliated group.
They managed to get away and ask for assistance from the authorities-
According to Ahmed Salem, executive director of the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, “Egyptian authorities have been abusing many women and children in North Sinai to obtain information about their suspected ISIS affiliate relatives or pressure these suspects to turn themselves in.” “The authorities should look into cases of torture and other ill-treatment against women and girls who are being held solely because they are connected to or associated with suspects who are men.”
Egyptian military operations in the North Sinai have intensified since July 2013 against Wilayat Sina, which swore allegiance to ISIS in 2014.
The area has effectively become a closed military zone with restrictions on independent reporting thanks to the Egyptian government. Wilayat Sina’ and the Egyptian military and police have both committed grave violations of international humanitarian law that may qualify as war crimes.
21 cases involving 19 women and 2 girls were documented by Human Rights Watch and the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights between 2017 and 2022. The organizations conducted remote interviews with the relatives of nine women and girls, nine other women’s solicitors, two people who were detained alongside another woman, and two women who had previously been incarcerated.
Three women’s relatives claimed that National Security Agency (NSA) employees mistreated them at different agency locations, including by beating and electric shock.
In North Sinai police stations, two additional women claimed that officers verbally abused them, slapped one of them in the face, and blindfolded the other.
According to sources, Wilayat Sina’s members have severely abused women and girls in their hideouts, including by raping them and forcing them into marriage. Members of the group occasionally prevented women and girls from leaving. However, in all 21 of the cases that were outlined for this report, the authorities did not consider the women and girls as potential offenders.
In addition, relatives and attorneys claimed that after the five women and one girl who were all detained in 2019 and 2021 escaped and sought protection from the authorities, the authorities referred them all for prosecution.
The girl and the five women were detained right away by security forces, who kept them all incommunicado for up to two months without access to attorneys and allegedly tortured at least one of the women.
Three of the six defendants’ releases were mandated by prosecutors or judges for the years 2021 and 2022. Security forces allegedly filed new cases against them with the same allegations of giving logistical support to or joining a terrorist group to evade their release orders, according to their attorneys. Despite court orders for their release, the authorities use this rotation procedure to keep people in arbitrary detention.
A 15-year-old girl who had been forced into three marriages since the age of 14 was detained by the authorities in 2019, her first two husbands having perished in armed conflict.
She moved from North Sinai to Cairo, and the authorities arrested her, held her without communication for six months, and filed charges against her, according to her attorney.
Other women and girls who, according to their relatives, had not resided in Wilayat Sina’s hideouts and may never have visited such hideouts were detained by security forces. It appears that this was done to obtain information about their relatives or to exact revenge on relatives who were thought to have joined the local ISIS affiliate.
Wilayat Sina’ appears to have lost a significant portion of its North Sinai stronghold since mid-2020. The Egyptian army and police have arbitrarily detained thousands of people during mass arrest campaigns under the pretext of fighting the group[BP1], many of whom are being held in isolation.
Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch stated that numerous women and girls in North Sinai have already endured intolerable abuse at the hands of individuals with ties to ISIS. Instead of imprisoning and abusing them, the Egyptian government ought to be guarding them.
According to family members and attorneys, security forces imprisoned 12 of the 21 women and girls for intervals of two weeks to six months, mostly at NSA locations in Cairo, North Sinai, and the neighboring Ismailia governorate.
The sources claimed that while six of the detained women were being forcibly disappeared, authorities ignored family inquiries about their whereabouts. Two of the twelve were detained by military personnel at a Military Intelligence facility in North Sinai for up to a week.
Only two of the twenty-one have been given prison sentences. Six at least remain behind bars. While holding 5 other women without charge or trial for up to 30 months, the authorities released 3 of them after questioning them for less than a day. The release of five additional women without a trial after months or years was ordered by authorities, according to lawyers and relatives, but lawyers were unable to confirm whether this was the case.
Failure to recognize Wilayat Sina’s abused women and girls as victims
Several Egyptian rights organizations have documented abuses against women and girls in North Sinai by male members of Wilayat Sina’, the local ISIS affiliate, despite the military’s imposed media blackout. However, in all 21 instances where women and girls were detained by the Egyptian government due to alleged Wilayat Sina family ties that Human Rights Watch and the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights had documented, the detention centers did not treat the women and girls as potential crime victims.
One of the six women who turned themselves into security forces was “Zainab,” 35, whose relative claimed that “the only role for women was [being used] for sex” at Wilayat Sina’ in North Sinai.
They were treated like servants and as slaves. A woman would wait until a man entered her tent to have sex with her before they got married. According to seven sources, many of these women were coerced into relocating to Wilayat Sina’s hideouts by the group’s members. One of them, according to her lawyer, was a girl from Sinai who was 14 when her family made her marry a Wilayat Sina member.
A woman who spent a month and a half in the Wilayat Sina hideouts in North Sinai in 2017 before managing to flee had repeatedly turned down her brothers’ requests to live with them, according to her lawyer. But when her youngest son vanished, her brother called to tell her she had to move in with them if she wanted to see him again.
Another woman, 33, and her husband relocated from Cairo to North Sinai in late 2016 after he informed her that he had been given a government position, according to her lawyer. She learned in North Sinai that he intended to relocate to one of the group’s lairs. The attorney claimed that she initially refused to accompany him and only agreed to do so after he abducted their two daughters.
These abuses have also been reported by other groups. An independent rights organization called the Egyptian Front for Human Rights reported in 2021 that it had evidence of severe mistreatment of women and girls by Wilayat Sina’s members in the group’s hideouts in North Sinai. These incidents included forced and child marriages, beatings, and threats of death if the victims tried to flee or refused to bring food to these locations. The group claimed that four of the 15 Bedouin women who were charged by the authorities in the Wilayat Sina cases were already mothers when they got married to members of the armed group, without ever having met their husbands or given their consent.
According to the Egyptian Front for Human Rights, these women and girls frequently have no other means of support, and if they try to leave, their spouses typically threaten to take their kids away from them.
The Egyptian authorities “arrested them to pressure their husbands from Wilayat Sina’ to surrender themselves” rather than recognizing these women and girls as victims and offering them rehabilitation services.
An independent rights organization called Belady an Island for Humanity (Belady) documented the cases of 106 women and 6 girls from North Sinai who were detained by the authorities between 2018 and 2022 in 24 cases connected to, joining, or assisting Wilayat Sina’. Belady claimed that 9 of these women and girls, including the 6 girls, were forced into marriage and that 85% of them desired a divorce based on interviews with 19 of these women and girls. Of the six girls who escaped, the authorities detained two right away, but they did not provide them with rehabilitation services or look into the physical and mental abuse their families and husbands had inflicted upon them.
According to documentation from Human Rights Watch and the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, eight of the twenty-one women were subjected to rotation by the authorities.
By accusing them of the same offenses in new cases, authorities can keep them arbitrarily detained despite court-ordered releases.
Following their escape from husbands who were Wilayat Sina’s members and request for assistance from the authorities, six women were reportedly detained by security forces, according to lawyers and family members. Four of the 21 women were also detained and questioned at security checkpoints in North Sinai and Ismailia without arrest warrants or other legal justification after the officers’ database checks revealed that the wives or other family members of the women were Wilayat Sina suspects. Authorities detained 11 more people at their residences, places of employment, or, in two instances, hospitals in North Sinai and Ismailia.
Eight months pregnant and escaping from a hideout in 2021, “Hiba,” age 21, went to the hospital nearby.
Suez Canal” said her attorney. She was detained and charged with joining and giving money and support to a terrorist organization after the medical staff learned she was married to a Wilayat Sina member. Hiba was to be freed in 2021 after ten months without a trial if she agreed to regularly report to the police several times per week, but her solicitors claimed that security forces never let her go.
Two women claimed that in 2021 they were briefly detained and interrogated about relatives who are allegedly wanted or suspected Wilayat Sina members before being let go.
One was held for 21 days in 2019 to question one who was arrested at her home without being shown a warrant. The second woman surrendered herself after they detained two of her relatives against their will after being unable to locate her at home.
“They blindfolded me and questioned me about two relatives who police said were wanted when I got to the police station,” she recalled. I swore repeatedly despite knowing nothing about them, but an officer persisted in yelling at me. Then, before releasing me, the police asked me to write down all of my personal information and that of my husband on a piece of paper, and they took a photo of me holding the paper. The first woman claimed that she was slapped in the face by a police officer who said, “I want to get promoted like officer [name withheld].” Give me details about your relative. You won’t be let go this time. You will be dismembered for dinner.
A woman named “Hania” was detained in 2021, according to her attorney, while visiting her mother-in-law who was hospitalized close to the Suez Canal. The attorney claimed that Hania has never visited a Wilayat Sina hideout, that she lost contact with her husband after he joined the organization years ago, and that she has no idea of his whereabouts or condition. She was accused of joining a terrorist organization and giving it logistical support. Although a judge ordered her release in 2022, the attorney was unable to confirm it.
In 2021, “Maymouna” was detained by police while working as a chemist in al-Arish, North Sinai. They removed her In 2021, “Maymouna” was detained by police while working as a chemist in al-Arish, North Sinai. According to a family member, they took her to an unidentified location in a private vehicle and informed her that she would be questioned before being swiftly released. Instead, Maymouna was taken away by force for about a month, and authorities never replied to her family’s questions about where she was.
Authorities later accused her of joining and aiding a terrorist organization with logistics. After a judge ordered her release without a trial six months later, the authorities only allowed her to leave their custody after another six months of isolation at a police station in North Sinai.
In 2020, after learning that “Salma’s” brother had joined Wilayat Sina’, police detained “Salma” along with her mother at their North Sinai home. Her attorney claimed that she informed the prosecution that a police officer had told her: “You are hostages here until your brother turns himself in.” in a North Sinai police station. Due to allegations that she and her mother joined a terrorist organization, prosecutors held them both in pretrial detention for more than two years. Salma was freed by the authorities in October 2022, but her mother is still being held without charge. Officers questioned a woman about male Wilayat Sina suspects for a month in late 2019 at a National Security Agency detention facility close to the Suez Canal in western North Sinai. A relative claimed that an NSA officer threatened to shock her while showing her images of Daesh (ISIS) suspects and questioning her about their real names, code names, and whether or not they are still alive. She was frequently subjected to blindfold interrogations, too.
Belady also claimed that none of the 19 women and girls they had questioned had been the subject of any tangible evidence of wrongdoing from the authorities. Belady discovered that in 2022, military courts acquitted 19 out of 34 defendants in 6 cases without looking into allegations of abuse against them by Wilayat Sina’ or the authorities, even though the majority of the 112 women and girls they documented endured prolonged, unjustified detention and some experienced physical abuse.