Last edited: February 14, 2005

Egypt Resumes Trial of ‘Immoral’ Men

Reuters, August 15, 2001

By Andrew Hammond

CAIRO — A controversial trial resumed in Cairo on Wednesday of 52 suspected homosexual men accused of sexual immorality and forming a group that propagated extremist ideas and denigrated Islam.

The court case, which began in July, has prompted sharp criticism from international rights groups, which say the men are being tried for their possible sexual orientation and for exercising freedom of speech and association.

Many of the defendants, who all plead not guilty, cried as they protested their innocence to the judge.

Outside the courtroom, the defendants’ families attacked journalists covering the case, accusing them of bringing shame to their loved ones.

The court had barred relatives from the proceedings after they verbally and physically attacked photographers at the opening session on July 18, saying the press had defamed the men.

"The media has condemned the accused through a savage campaign against them before they have been sentenced," Farid al-Dib, one of 50 defense lawyers, told the court.

Case arouses strong passions

The case, which has received extensive coverage in the local and international media, has aroused strong passions in conservative Egypt, where homosexuality is taboo but is not expressly prohibited by law.

Egyptian newspapers routinely refer to the case as "the homosexual trial," even though homosexuality does not appear on the charge sheet.

Abroad, demonstrators protested against the trial in 11 cities including Geneva, where 80 activists gathered holding banners that read, "Human rights in Egypt — Liberate 52 gays."

"We just wanted to highlight the problem," said organizer Yves de Matteis of the Swiss gay rights organization Pink Cross.

The men were detained in May in a police raid on a floating nightclub on the Nile called the "Queen Boat" and known locally as a popular gay venue.

The men face charges of "practicing sexual immorality" — a local euphemism for homosexuality — with a maximum penalty of three years.

The two main defendants face additional charges of "forming a group which aims to exploit the Islamic religion to propagate extremist ideas" and "denigrating monotheistic religions," which carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

On Wednesday, the judge released evidence against the 52, including 893 photographs which prosecutors say show them in indecent positions, for lawyers to review before the third session on August 29.

The evidence gathered against the defendants also included videocassettes and an array of books including several on Zionism. The prosecution has not explained the link between the evidence and the charges.

International rights groups have criticized the decision to try the men in a state security court under Egypt’s emergency laws, which have been in place since 1981 to counter Muslim militant violence.

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