Last edited: February 14, 2005

British Celebrities Defend Gay Rights in Egypt

Reuters, March 18, 2002

BRUSSELS—Rock star Sir Elton John, Lord of the Rings star Sir Ian McKellen and other British celebrities joined a campaign on Monday to defend gay rights in Egypt.

The campaign, led by Michael Cashman, British Labour member of the European Parliament, seeks freedom for 23 Egyptian men sentenced in the so-called Cairo 52 case for "habitual practice of debauchery" after they attended a boat party in Cairo.

Cashman, a former soap opera actor who along with some of the other celebrities is openly gay, said John and others had signed a petition calling for the men’s release.

It was due to be handed over to the Egyptian ambassador to the European Union on Tuesday.

"If there is no satisfactory response, we will launch a worldwide petition, rolling from country to country," Cashman said in a statement.

He called on the EU to suspend a trade and aid agreement with Egypt if Cairo failed to pardon the men or grant them an appeal in the case, which it said was a "flagrant example of persecution of homosexuals".

"If dialogue fails to achieve a resolution then we must cease aid and trade. We cannot bankroll human rights abuses...If we do nothing, then we condone these abuses of fundamental rights."

The men, who received prison terms of between one and five years’ hard labour, were arrested after a raid on the floating Queen Boat nightclub, known in Cairo as a popular gay venue.

Homosexuality is regarded as a taboo in mainly Muslim Egypt, but not expressedly prohibited by law.

Among other celebrities to sign the petition were British Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson and comedians Eddie Izzard, Graham Norton and Maureen Lipman.

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