Egyptian Court Frees Five Men Convicted of Sodomy
Appellate Reversal Comes After Official Government Response to Criticism
for Anti-Gay Persecution
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
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
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
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
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