CAIRO, March 23 (Reuters) - Human rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday called on Egypt's government to investigate accusations that the army tortured and abused women arrested in anti-government protests earlier this month.
At least 18 women were arrested on March 9 when army officers forcibly cleared Tahrir Square in Cairo, centre of the protests that toppled president Hosni Mubarak in February.
Some of those detained said the abuse included forced "virginity tests", beatings, electric shocks and strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers.
"Women and girls must be able to express their views on the future of Egypt and protest against the government without being detained, tortured or subjected to profoundly degrading and discriminatory treatment," the rights group said in a statement.
Amnesty quoted 20-year-old Salwa Hosseini, who was arrested and forced with other women to remove her clothes and was searched by a female prison guard. She said women were subjected to virginity tests by a man in a white coat and were threatened with prostitution charges if they were found not to be virgins, Amnesty said.
"Forcing women to have 'virginity tests' is utterly unacceptable. Its purpose is to degrade women because they are women," the rights group said.
El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, an Egyptian rights group, gathered testimonies consistent with those of the Amnesty witnesses.
Egypt's army has been criticised by activists for detaining Egyptians involved in the mass protests that toppled Mubarak and for abusing them in custody. The military has repeatedly denied torturing civilians.
The head of the military police told an Egyptian newspaper last week that video footage showing torture was fabricated by people who wanted to create divisions between the armed forces and the public.
Egyptian rights group Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said the military's attitude of denying torture allegations or failing to investigate the charges was reminiscent of the former interior minister's attitude.