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Egypt's revolutionaries say abusive treatment persists

By Ivan Watson and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, CNN
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Egypt: Revolution in doubt?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • After departure of president, protesters say, military began targeting them
  • Military council ready to approve law making protests a criminal offense
  • Rights groups trying to keep track of growing number of detentions

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- "Where is the revolution going, the revolution that began in Tahrir Square?" asked a short brunette holding a microphone. "What happened to the revolution we created?"

Human rights lawyer Ragia Omran repeated the question before a crowd of activists, concerned citizens and politicians from parties ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to the secular Al Waft Party, all attending a panel discussion held aboard a dinner boat on the Nile River.

Omran was asking about a recent law that Egypt's ruling military council stood poised to approve, which would make protests a criminal offense punishable by jail time and huge fines.

According to a spokesman for the Egyptian Armed Forces, the proposed law would ban protests that "conflict with the productivity of the country."

"Those involved will be jailed and fined a minimum of 500,000 Egyptian pounds," about $83,880, Maj. Amr Imam said.

Some of the panelists called for a protest against the new law.

"We were silent when they emptied the square by force. We were silent when they tortured protesters in the Egyptian Museum," said Emad Atiya of the Coalition Party. "Our response to this law against protests should be to actually protest."

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Atiya was referring to the violent crackdown of a sit-in that was organized on March 9 in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The sprawling urban space became famous over 18 historic -- and sometimes bloody -- days and nights of protests that led to the February 11 resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

But unlike in those previous demonstrations, on March 9, the Egyptian military targeted the protesters. Soldiers dragged dozens of demonstrators from the square and through the gates of the landmark Egyptian Museum.

That is where, 23-year-old Ramy Esam said, he was beaten to a pulp.

"The torture took four hours," he said recently. He spoke lying face-down on his bed because his back, buttocks and legs were coated with hideous bruises, scabs and cuts.

"They removed my clothes," Esam continued. "They used sticks, metal rods, wires, ropes, hoses, whips. There was also electrocution. There was an officer who would purposely jump in the air and land on my face with his legs."

The ferocity of this beating was all the more surprising because Esam is an often-recognized musician who led crowds in rousing revolutionary songs in Tahrir Square at the height of the uprising.

At least 17 female demonstrators were also detained March 9, along with scores of men.

According to a report published this week by Amnesty International, the women "were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to 'virginity checks' and threatened with prostitution charges."

One of the women named in the report was a 20-year-old hairdresser named Salwa Hosseini. She described to CNN how uniformed soldiers tied her up on the grounds of the Egyptian Museum, forced her to the ground and then slapped her and shocked her with a Taser while calling her a prostitute.

"They wanted to teach us a lesson," Hosseini said. "They wanted to make us feel that we do not have dignity."

The treatment got worse, Hosseini said, when she and the 16 other female prisoners were taken to a military detention center in Heikstep.

There, she said, she and several of the other female detainees were subjected to a "virginity test."

"We did not agree for a male doctor to perform the test," she said. But Hosseini said her captors forced her to comply by threatening her with more Taser shocks.

"I was going through a nervous breakdown at that moment," she recalled. "There was no one standing during the test, except for a woman and the male doctor. But several soldiers were standing behind us watching the backside of the bed. I think they had them standing there as witnesses."

Imam denied allegations of torture or "virginity tests" after the detentions. He did confirm that 17 women were arrested, however, and added that some of the detainees received one-year suspended prison sentences.

"If they are arrested again for breaking the law, they will have to serve their sentence," Imam said.

Human rights organizations are trying to keep track of the growing number of detentions across the country.

"We are currently compiling statistics regarding the breach of human rights conducted by the army," said Ahmed Ragen, director of the Hisham Mubarak Human Rights Center. "The numbers are in the hundreds regarding detentions and in the tens regarding torture."

Omran said she and her sister were detained by the Egyptian military last weekend while trying to monitor a polling station during Egypt's historic referendum on constitutional reform. More than 18 million people turned out to vote, casting their ballots overwhelmingly for a package of constitutional amendments.

After being interrogated for hours, Omran said, she and her sister, who had government permits authorizing them to monitor polling stations, were eventually released.

"There are so many people who are not as lucky as us ... who have now been arrested and put on trial. And probably their families have no way of getting them out," Omran said.

"I'm shocked," she added. "Because I thought that kind of treatment went down with the regime."

CNN's Reza Sayah contributed to this report.

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