Tougher laws needed to stop violence against women, activists say

Several women's rights organisations have called upon Egyptian parliamentarians to amend existing laws and develop tougher legislation to stop violence against women.

A statement was made on Monday by the groups in reaction to a recent rape and murder case in which one of the accused was sentenced to only three years imprisonment in May.

The second accused was sentenced to two years and on appeal this sentence was reduced to two months imprisonment.

The Arab Women's Alliance (AWA), the New Women's Research Centre (NWRC), and the Egyptian Centre for Women's Legal Assistance (ECWLA), along with several other women's rights groups, demanded the implementation of fresh legislation concerning rape.

"The judge referred to article 17 of the penalties code which gives judges discretion in taking mercy in cases and reducing the degree of the crime," Hala Abdel-Kader of ECWLA said.

"Article 17 is an important clause in the Egyptian law because there are cases that deserve mercy due to the circumstances of the crime. However, we cannot find any justifications in this case for mercy," she added.

According to a statement issued by the women's rights organisations, the two accused men in the rape case confessed to their crime. The first accused had lured the 23 year-old girl to his flat where he raped and beat, resulting in her death.

According to Abdel-Kader, who is a lawyer, article 290 of the criminal code stipulates that a criminal accused of kidnapping and raping a woman should receive a capital punishment.

"The accused have confessed to their crime. In addition, the judge explained when passing the sentence that he strongly believes that the girl was kidnapped and raped. Still he referred to article 17 of the penalties code without giving any explanation to why," she said.

As an observer, Judge Ghareeb Ezzat told IRIN that article 17 was not a compulsory article that is used in all cases.

"Article 17 is only used in criminal cases and depending on the circumstances of the case itself,” he said, adding that each crime has its own set of circumstances which need to be taken into consideration when sentencing.

The girl's brother submitted an appeal request to the prosecutor after the verdict was announced. When it was refused he wrote a petition to the general prosecutor and is waiting for a date to be set for an appeal.

"In criminal cases, the prosecutor is delegated to handle the case on behalf of the victim and in the name of the people," Administrative Prosecutor, Mustafa Abaza, said.

"The prosecutor only accepts appeal cases when it sees that the law has not been used correctly in a case," he explained, adding that in this case the judge's ruling was legitimate.

With regard to this regulation, women rights organisations are now demanding that the victim have the right of appeal against decisions in criminal cases, without having to go to the prosecutor.

According to Abdel-Kader, this case has highlighted loopholes in the Egyptian legislative system, especially with regard to crimes of violence against women.

"Such crimes should not be left unpunished and criminals should be sentenced to a punishment that fits the degree of their crime," she said.