Gay Flaps in World Trouble Spot
Egypt, Israel, Palestinian Authority all faulted for
City News, March 14–20, 2003
By Mick Meenan
As the Bush administration struggles to forge a
multi-national coalition to confront the threat that it contends Iraq poses to
the world, human rights advocates are criticizing two key Middle East allies
groups for their recent treatment of gay detainees.
the Cairo 52, a group of gay men whose arrests and trials in 2001 and 2002
caused an international outcry, are slated after prolonged procedural delays,
to be retried on March 15 under the Egyptian penal code for “habitual
The retrial is a vindication of sorts for these men, even
though some men acquitted in the first round of trials are now facing double
In May 2002, President Hosni Mubarak vacated their
original sentences, handed down by a military judge, after the defendants were
tried for prostitution and public indecency in the Emergency State Security
Court established more than two decades ago, after the assassination of
President Anwar Sadat.
The military court has become the venue for trying right
wing Islamic fundamentalists agitating for the establishment of an Islamic
theocracy in Egypt and those deemed a “threat to the security of the
nation.” Apparently, that category includes homosexuals. The verdict of the
presiding military officer is not subject to appeal.
Two men from the original Cairo 52 are currently serving
prison time following sentencing in the military court. Their original
indictments said they organized the social event aboard the Queen Boat, the
floating disco on the Nile River raided by Egyptian security forces in May
2001 at which all the men were arrested
Meanwhile, there has been a spate of other arrests in
Egypt of gay men whose electronic conversations with other men via the
Internet have been seized as evidence against them. The arrests are allegedly
the result of an entrapment scheme devised by law enforcement authorities who
pose as gay men only to arrest the man whom they later meet.
Michael Heflin, the director of Outfront, Amnesty
International’s gay and lesbian advocacy program, said that his organization
has classified two such defendants as prisoners of conscience because they
openly identify as gay.
Wissam Tawfiq Abyad, a Lebanese national, is serving a
15-month prison sentence and Zaki Sayid Zaki, a native Egyptian, is serving a
three-year sentence, while his case is appealed.
“Interestingly enough,” Heflin noted, “the only two
Middle Eastern nations that don’t criminalize homosexuality specifically are
Israel and Egypt. Things had begun to emerge in Egypt in terms of social
gathering and community building in the gay community. Apparently, that has
sparked a crack down.”
U.S. Representative Barney Frank (D-Ma.), who is gay, has
written to Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, expressing concern over the
recent arrests and convictions of gay men in Egypt “solely for engaging in
private, consensual, sexual relations.”
In a March 12 letter, which his office released to the
press, Frank mentioned the case of Abyad, a 19-year-old Cairo man arrested
earlier this year after being lured to a meeting following a conversation with
a police officer posing as a gay man on the Internet.
Noting $200 million in new aid approved for Egypt and
assistance that the U.S. Agency for International Development is specifically
providing Egypt for Internet infrastructure, Frank warned Mubarak, “If gay
men continue to be entrapped and imprisoned through the use of the Internet
and in other ways, this may undermine Congressional support for this and other
kinds of international aid.”
Heflin said “falaka,” a practice in which police
officers beat prisoners on the bare soles of their feet with wooden batons, is
commonly inflicted upon gay detainees. Another gay prisoner also complained to
the organization about being caned on his back.
Faisal Alam, president of Al-Fatiha, a worldwide LGBT
Muslim advocacy group based in the U.S., argued that while the Internet
entrapment cases will be tried in standard criminal courts, “the trials are
the manipulation of a religion in a political way. These cases are a bone
being thrown to religious extremists.”
In Israel, meanwhile, three out gay Palestinian have
resisted expulsion after fleeing there in hope of attaining political asylum.
Human rights groups are declaring that the three will become victims of
political persecution should they be handed over to Palestinian authorities.
Alam stated, “These men will be viewed as Israeli
collaborators should they return to their native towns and they will face
A lesbian and gay civil rights group in Brazil has
petitioned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to allow the men to obtain
political asylum in Brazil rather returning to their native towns in the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip.
But, Aguda, an Israeli LGBT group, reported that two of
the Palestinians had already been deported to the West Bank, and had not been
heard from since. The group said that the third, Tarek Abu Madi, will go on
trial March 16 for being in Israel with a permit, and could then face
deportation to Gaza, where Aguda said he could face “persecution, torture,
and possible death.”
Alam argued that the fate of gay Middle Eastern is not a
concern of U.S. foreign policy.
“The focus post- September 11 is on terrorism,” he
said. “The United States is not interested in using gay rights as leverage
in its foreign policy decisions. That means not criticizing Israel or Egypt.
Our money, foreign aid, is being used to entrap and persecute gay men.”
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