Last edited: February 14, 2005

Egyptian Men Plead Innocent to Gay Charges

The Advocate, July 19, 2001

Protesting and sobbing, 52 Egyptian men pleaded innocent Wednesday to charges of debauchery and having gay sex. Occupying one side of the packed courtroom, the men, handcuffed and dressed in white T-shirts and trousers, cursed and screamed as the prosecutor read the charges. Prosecutor Ashraf Hilal told the state security court that two of the men, Sherif Frarhat and Mahmoud Ahmed Allam, are charged with contempt of religion; falsely interpreting the Koran, Islam’s holy book; and exploiting Islam to promote deviant ideas. They’re also charged with immoral behavior. The other men are charged with debauchery and gay sex. Contempt of religion is punishable by up to five years in jail. The debauchery offense carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail.

International human rights groups have condemned the May arrests, with some charging that the defendants were targeted for allegedly being gay. Egyptian law does not explicitly refer to homosexuality, but a wide range of laws covering obscenity and public morality are punishable by jail terms. The defendants were arrested on a Nile River boat restaurant. Police said they were holding a gay sex party. Prosecutors later changed tack and said the group was meeting with a self-styled preacher.

"We only want mercy," cried one defendant over the din of wailing family members in the courtroom. "We’ve been detained without any evidence against us," yelled another.

The case has caused controversy in Egypt, where homosexuality is regarded as a sin. Some newspapers have published names and photos of some of the defendants in graphic articles detailing the arrests. Many of the defendants covered their faces with towels or tissues as they entered the courtroom Wednesday to avoid the cameras. Relatives and families clashed with reporters, accusing them of defaming the defendants. One of the accused, Mohammed Ibrahim, said he was beaten by police during his arrest at a gym where he works as a trainer. While in custody he underwent an examination to determine whether he had engaged in gay sex, he told reporters. Defense lawyer Abdel Sattar el-Sani said his client, university professor Mohammed Mahmoud Mourad, is not gay and was arrested while driving his car. "Society rejects homosexuality. Had my client been gay, I wouldn’t have defended him. Homosexuality is against religion," el-Sani said.

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