Egyptian molester sentenced to eight years in prison

Assaults on three minors happened between 2016 and 2020

A picture shows Egypt’s High Court in downtown Cairo on January 1, 2015, during the hearing of three Al-Jazeera reporters on charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's top court ordered a retrial of the three Al-Jazeera reporters whose imprisonment on charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood triggered global outrage, but kept them in custody pending a new hearing. Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed of the broadcaster's English service were detained in December 2013. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo by KHALED DESOUKI / AFP)
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An Egyptian criminal court on Sunday convicted a university student of sexually assaulting and blackmailing three underage girls, sentencing him to eight years in prison, judicial officials said.

The court in Cairo also found the student Ahmed Bassam Zaki, 21, guilty of sexually harassing two other underage girls.

In all cases, said the court, Zaki used blackmail to force his victims to continue their sexual relations with him.

The assaults happened between 2016 and 2020.

Sunday’s verdict, against which Zaki can appeal, came nearly four months after another court sentenced him to three years in prison for “misusing” social media and phone applications.

That December verdict was passed by an economic court that normally rules on white collar crime.

In Zaki’s case, it ruled on charges that he misused applications such as WhatsApp, which prosecutors said he had used to blackmail his victims into providing him with sexual favours.

If Sunday’s verdict is upheld by a higher court, he will serve the longer sentence.

Zaki was enrolled at the American University in Cairo before he moved to Barcelona to study.

But he was suspended from his Spanish university and expelled when sexual assault allegations against him first surfaced last summer.

Zaki's case sparked an uproar among women's rights activists in Egypt, who called it part of a culture of harassment against women in the conservative nation despite government efforts to battle abuse.

Rights groups say the relatively small number of cases that go to trial reflect a level of acquiescence whereby many Egyptians – men and women – explain such crimes away as the result of women's provocative attire or economic hardship.

The Zaki case also turned the spotlight on a patriarchal society in which women's rights were dismissed or regarded to be inferior to those of men.

Campaigners and social media users have vilified families and educational institutions for counselling members not to go public with their experiences of sexual harassment or assault, on the grounds that shame or harm to reputations would follow.

In recent years, the government has toughened penalties on those convicted of rape or sexual harassment, but the problem persists, prompting calls for effective societal reform.

Zaki’s case was intensely publicised when it first surfaced last summer because of his privileged background.

Many Egyptians also saw it as a potent example of how social media networks and widely used phone applications can be used by sexual harassers to lure their victims or blackmail them.

Prosecutors said Zaki used lewd photos sent to him by his victims to blackmail them into having sex with him.

In one case, prosecutors said, he threatened to send the photos to the parents of a victim with the claim that their daughter was involved in drugs and prostitution.

Another case that rocked Egypt last year involved a group of rich young men who drugged and sexually assaulted a young woman at a five-star Cairo hotel while filming the attack.

Several arrests have been made in connection with that case but a trial is yet to begin.