Legitimate self-defence?

Reem Leila
Friday 26 Jul 2019

What happens when a rape victim kills her attacker, asks Reem Leila

Not so long ago social media was up in arms because a 15-year old girl had been detained after telling police she had killed a man after he kidnapped and then tried to rape her.

Two weeks later investigations suggests the girl’s story may have been concocted, at in least in parts.

Amira Ahmed,15, told police she was kidnapped on 15 July by a minibus driver who took her to a remote area of Al-Ayyat village in Giza where he attempted to rape her.

Ahmed said she managed to get hold of the knife the man was using to threaten her, and then stabbed him to death.

Recently uncovered camera footage, however, shows that Ahmed got on the minibus normally rather than being kidnapped.

Amira Fouad, Ahmed’s lawyer, says she has submitted a request to transfer the case to the juvenile rather than general prosecution since Ahmed is a minor. Fouad also argues her client should not be held in detention since she acted in self-defence, and has petitioned for Fouad to be released until the prosecution completes its investigations.

“Ahmed was defending herself and her self-defence was legitimate,” insists Fouad.

News of Ahmed’s detention for 15 days caused a public outcry. A social media campaign was launched demanding her immediate release, and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) issued a press release stressing its support for Ahmed.

“The council’s legal department will assign a lawyer to assist in her defence. The council will be responsible for all expenses given the girl was acting to defend herself,” said the NCCM.

The case has attracted enormous interest. Mahmoud Ismail, a member of the Cairo Centre for Political and Legal Studies, points to the fact the minibus driver was stabbed 14 times.

“The man appeared to have abandoned the knife with which he was threatening her. She then grabbed it and stabbed him 14 times. Not only once or twice, but 14 times. The intention was clearly to kill him,” says Ismail. If the girl had been defending herself she would have stabbed him once or twice and then run away, he adds.

Speaking on television, Cairo University criminal law professor Mohamed Bahaa Abu Shokka said that if a woman kills her assailant during an attempted rape her actions constitute legitimate self-defence.

“The Court of Cassation has ruled that legitimate self-defence must be assessed according to the circumstances of each case. The number of stab wounds does cannot be assumed to indicate an intention to kill. They could well be linked to the victim’s emotional state,” he said.

The law, Abu Shokka continued, allows a person to kill an assailant if his/her life or property is seriously threatened. He also argued the detention of Ahmed for 15 days is justified given the investigation is ongoing and prosecutors need to be sure she acted in self-defence.

Whatever the outcome of the investigation, the case has already resulted in renewed demands that sexual harassment and rape be punished with heavier sentences.

A 2013 study by UN Women in Egypt, in cooperation with the Cairo Demographic Centre, revealed that 99 per cent of women surveyed complained of being harassed.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 25 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Legitimate self-defence?

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