Last edited: February 14, 2005

Egyptian Court Frees Five Men Convicted of Sodomy

Appellate Reversal Comes After Official Government Response to Criticism for Anti-Gay Persecution

Washington Blade, April 19, 2002

By Lou Chibbaro, Jr.

An Egyptian appeals court on April 13 overturned the convictions of five men who had been found guilty in March of engaging in consensual homosexual acts. Officials with the San Francisco-based International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission said they were hopeful the acquittal represents a decision by Egyptian authorities to discontinue a widespread police crackdown against gays in Egypt that has attracted international attention.

The Egyptian men who were acquitted on appeal on April 13 had been arrested in the city of Damanhour on March 11 and sentenced to three years in prison and three years’ probation.

"We are gratified that the Egyptian government is beginning to recognize its human rights obligations," said IGLHRC official Scott Long, in commenting on the appeals court acquittal.

"Unfortunately, an unknown number of innocent people remain in prison because of their suspected homosexuality. We must continue the pressure until they are all released."

The appeals court ruling came one month after the Egyptian ambassador to the United States told members of Congress that more than 50 men arrested last year in a Cairo nightclub frequented by gay men were charged with prostitution and "promiscuity" related offenses, and were not targeted because of their sexual orientation.

The ambassador, Nabil Fahmy, addressed the May 2001 arrests of these men in a letter to 37 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The ambassador’s missive was in response to a letter that House members sent that same day to Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, protesting what the House members said appeared to be a policy of persecution.

Twenty-three of the men were convicted and sentenced last November by a court with special jurisdiction over cases threatening national security to terms ranging from one to five years of hard labor. IGLHRC and other human rights groups have since reported that Egyptian authorities continue to target gay men for arrest, part of a government effort to send a message to radical Islamic groups that it does not tolerate homosexuality, the groups have asserted.

Ambassador Fahmy rejected that charge in the letter to the House members.

"We in Egypt cherish and have pride in the norms and values that our community has embraced, and which we believe have served us well," he wrote. "The 23 men found guilty—less than half of those originally charged—were convicted essentially under a law which penalizes promiscuity/prostitution," Fahmy wrote. "Promiscuity/prostitution of any form is prohibited by law. There is no distinction or discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation."

Citing information from Egyptian sources, the San Francisco-based ILGHRC has charged that Egyptian authorities targeted the Cairo nightclub solely because it was known as a place where gay men congregated. The IGLHRC group also disclosed information indicating that some of the men arrested at the club, which was located on a boat docked in a Cairo harbor, were subjected to beatings by police that appeared to be a form of torture.

Fahmy also denied allegations of police abuse.

"The Egyptian government did investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment of the accused, even before passing judgment," Fahmy wrote. "The medical examiners did not find any evidence of physical abuse to indicate torture or mistreatment with respect to the 52 men originally accused," he wrote.

Daniel McGlinchey, legislative assistant to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of two House members who initiated the letter to Mubarak, said Frank and the other House members plan to send a response to the ambassador’s letter. McGlinchey said Frank is skeptical of the ambassador’s claim that the arrest of the 52 men at a gay-oriented club had nothing to do with their sexual orientation. He said Frank plans to raise with Egyptian officials information released by human rights groups that Egypt targets gays disproportionately under its sweeping law against "the habitual practice of debauchery."

Four of the 37 House members who signed the March 20 letter of protest to Mubarak were Republicans, and many Democratic and Republican House members who support gay rights, including openly gay Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), did not sign. McGlinchey said Frank and Reps. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), the four members who circulated the letter to House colleagues—lacked sufficient time to allow more members to sign due to the closeness of the Congressional recess for the Easter-Passover holiday.

McGlinchey said he had heard of no objections to the letter by gay-supportive House members who did not sign it. He speculated that the time factor, rather than opposition, was the reason that more members didn’t sign the letter.

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