Last edited: January 01, 2005

Egypt Tries 52 Suspected Gay Men for "Immorality"

Reuters, July 18, 2001

By Andrew Hammond

CAIRO—A controversial trial opened on Wednesday in a Cairo state security court of 52 men suspected of homosexuality, as female relatives of the accused screamed hysterically and slapped and shouted at journalists.

"Why are you taking pictures? Don’t take pictures! Don’t make a scandal!" two women shouted at a Reuters photographer, as they slapped and punched him in the face and tried to drag him outside the courtroom.

Many of the 52 men who filed into the cramped courtroom covered their heads with towels in an effort to hide their faces. One fainted, but recovered in the crowded stifling hot courtroom after the trial began two hours later than scheduled.

The judge set the next trial session for August 15, when defence lawyers will begin their arguments.

The men face charges including "forming a group which aims to exploit the Islamic religion to propagate extremist ideas" and "practising sexual immorality" — seen as a euphemism for homosexuality, which Egyptian law does not expressly prohibit.

They were detained in May in a police raid on a floating nightclub on the Nile known locally as a popular gay venue.

If convicted, the men could face five-year jail terms.

The case, which has received extensive coverage in the local media, has aroused strong passions in conservative Egypt, where homosexuality is regarded as taboo.

All of them pleaded not guilty when the charges were read out, some quoting Koranic verses to protest their innocence.

Dozens of angry relatives assailed waiting journalists outside the courtroom.

"You journalists are filthy. The press wants to scandalise us!" angry women shouted, while pushing and kicking photographers. "The press fabricated this case."

Security guards with sticks cleared the courthouse of up to 200 people.

"This case is ridiculous. All he did was to be in the bar when they (police) rounded everyone up," the mother of one of the accused, an English teacher, told Reuters. "He is really suffering in detention."

The case follows a string of publicised incidents involving homosexuality in the past year, including reports of gay soliciting on the Internet, which prompted one paper to call for the death penalty for homosexuals.

The decision to try the men in a state security court under Egypt’s emergency laws, which have been in place since 1981, technically to counter Muslim militant violence, has raised eyebrows in Egypt and abroad.

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