22-year-old Ahmed Bassam Zaki is on trial for sexually assaulting and then blackmailing three girls under the age of 18.

A woman checks on her phone an Instagram account for reporting allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Ahmed Bassam Zaki, Cairo, Egypt, July 16, 2020.
A woman checks on her phone an Instagram account for reporting allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Ahmed Bassam Zaki, Cairo, Egypt, July 16, 2020. (AFP)

A former Cairo university student has appeared in court charged with blackmail and indecent assault of at least three women.

Ahmed Bassam Zaki, aged in his early 20s and a former student at the American University in Cairo, attended a closed session with the trial adjourned to November 7, a lawyer from the defence team, Ahmed Ragheb said.

In September, the public prosecutor referred Zaki to the criminal court on charges of "sexually assaulting three girls under the age of 18 and threatening them along with a fourth girl with disclosing matters related to their honour".

Zaki, who comes from a wealthy family, could face a life sentence or death sentence if the prosecution can prove rape with evidence.

READ MORE: Accusations of Serial Rape Push Egypt Toward a Reckoning

'Most dangerous megacity'

The closely-watched case was prompted by social media that opened up a rare public debate on sex crimes.

The case has attracted widespread attention from media, religious figures and women's groups in a country where rights defenders say sexual harassment or abuse often goes unpunished.

A 2017 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll found Cairo to be the most dangerous megacity for women and 99 percent of women in Egypt interviewed by the United Nations in 2013 said they had experienced sexual harassment.

Allegations against Zaki were posted in previous years on a private Facebook group run by AUC students but authorities reacted this year after the accusations surfaced on an Instagram account named @assaultpolice.

View this post on Instagram

Ahmed Bassam Zaki is a sexual predator who preyed on a shocking number of women and underage girls all around Egypt. He has been getting away with it for 5 years now, facing NO consequences for his actions. He ridiculed and blackmails his victims. Together, we can gather a large database of evidence of his harassment & assaults. Dm us any evidence you have or would like to share. We maintain STRICT anonymity unless you approve otherwise. Swipe left for a history of institutions Ahmed has attended. If you were experienced any harassment at these institutions by Ahmed, PLEASE come out! . . . احمد بسام زكي هو متحرش و مغتصب، اتحرش بعدد صادم من البنات و القاصرات في مصر. متحاسبش او واجه اي عواقب لأفعاله لمدة ٥ سنين! مش بس كدا،هو كمان بيبتز ضحاياه بعد الواقعة و بيهددهم بالفضيحة لو معملوش اللي هو عايزه. البيدج دي هي مجموعة من الأدلة و الشهادات من البنات اللي ارتكب ضدهم الجرائم البشعة دي.. على امل ان احنا نقدر نخليه يواجه افعاله. لو في حد عايز يحكي قصته مع احمد.. ممكن يبعت DM للبيج و اسمه مش هيتحط في اي مكان. في البوست موجود list بكل الجامعات اللي احمد بيرتادها. لو حد من الجامعات او المؤسسات دي اتعرض لأي مضايقة من احمد، ارجوكم اتكلموا و متسكتوش.

A post shared by ASSAULT POLICE ⚠️ (@assaultpolice) on

After Zaki's arrest, hundreds of women started to speak up on social media about abuse, sparking a #MeToo Movement, that exposed several men and also revealed a high-profile rape case that occurred in a Cairo hotel in 2014.

In August, the public prosecution arrested two suspects in that case and said seven others had fled the country and it was pursuing them.

On September 25, the public prosecution said Lebanon had handed over three men accused in the case while two others had fled.

Right of anonymity

Responding to the growing public debate over women's safety, parliament passed a law in August giving women the automatic right to anonymity in a bid to encourage more to report sexual assaults.

"Zaki's case has been shocking as it put into debate a deeply-rooted tradition of accusing the victim not the harasser and justifying his actions," said lawyer Reda Eldanbouki, executive director of the Women's Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness.

Source: Reuters