Last edited: February 14, 2005

Egyptian Court Convicts 23 for Homosexuality

Washington Post, November 14, 2001

By Howard Schneider

CAIRO—An Egyptian court today sentenced 23 men to up to five years in prison on charges that they defamed Islam and committed "debauchery" by homosexuality in a floating disco on the Nile that was raided by police last May.

Twenty-nine other men were acquitted in the case, which has drawn protests from international human rights and gay and lesbian organizations that contend the men were arrested and prosecuted only because of their sexual orientation.

Egyptian law does not specifically outlaw homosexuality.

However, prosecutors contended during the case that the alleged "ringleader" of the group, an engineer whose diaries and photo albums became central pieces of evidence, was promoting homosexuality through a distorted version of Islam. He received the stiffest sentence, five years. One other man received three years in prison, and 20 of the others received two years. One man received one year; a 15-year-old had earlier been sentenced to three years in jail through the juvenile courts.

The case has been one of several in recent months to be criticized by local civil liberties activists as evidence of government repression here. A prominent academic was sentenced to seven years in prison for accepting foreign contributions in violation of government regulations designed to combat the financing of terrorists, and an author was investigated for charges of apostasy.

Although the allegations in this case centered largely around religion, an Egyptian prosecutor in earlier statements to the court had indicated some of the government’s other sensitivities.

"Egypt will not be used for the defamation of manhood and will not be a hub for gay communities," government lawyer Ashraf Hilal said during one September court session.

Western diplomats monitoring the trial said they thought one motivation for Egypt’s decision to prosecute the men was a perception in the government that the country, particularly through the Internet, was being successfully marketed as a spot for "gay tourism."

In the struggle to prove that it is responsibly enforcing Islamic values and defending Egypt’s generally conservative culture, the argument went, the government’s raid on the floating "Queen Boat" disco won points locally even if Amnesty International and other groups condemned it.

Even some local human rights groups were hesitant to speak in favor of the defendants, arguing that they wanted to keep their credibility for what were regarded as more important issues.

On the website, which has monitored the trial closely through pseudonymous reports from a local correspondent, supporters of the men continued their call for a tourist boycott of Egypt, and said the trial represented the government’s efforts "set a harsh example to any gay man even thinking about putting his foot out of the closet."

"52 lives, 52 reputations, 52 human beings are being damaged," Scott Long, director of the U.S.-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said, according to the Associated Press. "This is what is brutal about this."

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