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Published: Wednesday July 16, 2014 MYT 9:16:16 PM
Updated: Wednesday July 16, 2014 MYT 9:16:16 PM

Egyptian court sentences five men to life for sexual harassment

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court sentenced five men to life imprisonment on Wednesday for sexually harassing and attacking women during celebrations in June after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's election.

The verdict may ease concerns that Egyptian authorities have done little to tackle widespread sexual harassment.

Another defendant was sentenced to 40 years in jail and another to 20 years. The charges included attempted rape, attempted murder and torture.

In a separate case, three men were sentenced to life in jail for attacking a woman as she celebrated the anniversary of the 2011 revolt that toppled autocratic president Hosni Mubarak. One of the men had already received a life sentence in a case involving the Sisi celebrations.

Sisi ordered the interior minister to fight sexual harassment after the arrest of seven men for attacking women near Cairo's Tahrir Square during his inauguration celebrations.

The attacks took place as thousands of people gathered on the streets, raising new worries about Egypt's commitment to fighting sexual violence.

A video was posted on YouTube showing a naked woman with injuries on her hip being dragged through a large crowd towards an ambulance. It drew a public outcry and led further victims to come forward.

Sisi visited one of the victims in hospital and presented her with a bouquet of flowers.

Sexual assault was rampant at demonstrations during and after the 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak and has been common for a decade at large gatherings in Egypt.

Sisi has frequently spoken highly of women and their importance to society. A police officer who rescued a victim of sexual harassment should be honoured, he ordered, in an apparent reference to the woman in the video.

But some liberals were initially wary of Sisi, especially after remarks he made defending an army practice - later denied by an army court - of conducting "virginity tests" on female protesters who complained of abuse.

Many say Egyptian society needs to take sexual harassment more seriously. One female television presenter on a private channel giggled when her colleague mentioned the harassment in Tahrir. The people were simply "happy", she said.

Sexual harassment, high rates of female genital cutting and a surge in violence after the Arab Spring uprisings have made Egypt the worst country in the Arab world to be a woman, a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey showed late last year.

(Additional reporting by Asma Alsharif; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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