Last edited: December 07, 2004

Egypt Spars With US Congressmen Over Gay Arrests, May 21, 2002

By Paul Johnson

Washington—The Egyptian government is refuting claims by a group of US congressmen that it is persecuting gays.

In March, 40 members of the US congress sent a letter to the Egyptian embassy calling on the government to end the continued mistreatment of gay men. It was the second letter of protest the group sent to the Embassy.

Since the summer of 2001 Egypt has rounded up dozens of gay men, tried them for the "habitual practice of debauchery" with more than than half of those accused sentenced to prison with hard labour.

Human Rights activists say the "debauchery" charge is commonly used to target and prosecute gay men. They also point to the fact that many of the men who have been arrested were subjected to forensic examinations in order to determine whether they had engaged in anal intercourse. The results of these examinations were presented at hearings before the Supreme State Security Prosecution.

Two months after the congressional letter was sent, Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy, has replied.

Fahmy denied that his country was unfairly targeting gay men. Stating there is no law explicitly forbidding homosexuality in Egypt, the ambassador said the men in Cairo "were convicted essentially under a law which penalizes promiscuity/prostitution" and "that there is no distinction or discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation."

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of the signatories to the letter, said he doesn’t believe the ambassador’s claims. "Egyptian authorities are applying this law virtually exclusively against adult gay men who are doing no harm to others, and this shows that a clear and active anti-gay policy exists in Egypt."

The congressmen, led by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), replied Monday to Fahmy, saying "your selective invocation of certain human rights conventions when it suits your purposes, and your ignoring of others when they don’t, is unpersuasive."

The letter went on to say: "Your reference in your most recent letter to the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery seems particularly irrelevant to us because what we are talking about here is a form of oppression against innocent, consenting adults who have done no harm to anyone else.

Earlier this year, Lantos introduced a resolution in the House all violations of internationally recognized human rights norms based on real or perceived sexual orientation.

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