Last edited: February 14, 2005

52 Plead "Not Guilty" Newscenter in London, July 19, 2001

By Jon Ben Asher

Cairo — Fifty two men charged with amounts to be treason have pleaded "not guilty "in Egypt’s biggest gay trial .

The men all between 18 and 35, were arrested during a police raid on a gay club in a boat on the Nile in May.

The case is being treated as a matter of state security and will be tried under the emergency law established in 1981 to protect the Egyptian government from Islamic militants.

If convicted they face three to five years in jail.

Herded into the prisoners dock many of the men covered their faces, some with towels. As the prosecutor read the charges the men cursed and screamed.

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

They are accused of exploiting Islam to promote deviant ideas, immoral behaviour, and having gay sex.

Contempt of religion is punishable by up to five years in jail. The debauchery offence carries with it a maximum sentence of three years in jail.

International human rights groups have condemned the arrests.

The families of the men say they were subjected to torture, whipping and electrical shocks while in prison awaiting trial.

When the defendants were arrested on a Nile river boat restaurant, police said they were holding a gay sex party. Prosecutors later changed tact and said the group was meeting with a self-styled preacher.

The case has been adjourned until August 15.

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