Last edited: February 14, 2005

Relatives Barred From Trial of 52 Men Accused in Gay Sex Party

Associated Press, August 15 2001

CAIRO, Egypt — Relatives were barred Wednesday from attending the trial of 52 men charged with contempt of religion, debauchery and immoral behavior after police raided a Nile boat party where men allegedly were engaging in gay sex.

The case has shocked conservative Egypt and prompted international attention and support from gay rights activists. In Geneva on Wednesday, about 50 people demonstrated just outside U.N. offices, holding up letters in French that spelled out: "Human Rights in Egypt—Free the 52 Gays."

All of the men pleaded innocent when the trial opened July 18. At that session, families of the defendants scuffled with reporters, accusing them of defaming the defendants. This time, special police forces kept families outside.

The trial also was moved to another Cairo courthouse and security was tight at Wednesday’s hearing.

Two defendants, Sherif Farahat and Mahmoud Ahmed Allam, were charged with immoral behavior, contempt of religion, falsely interpreting the Islamic holy book, the Quran, and exploiting Islam to promote deviant ideas. The rest of the defendants were charged with debauchery and accused of having gay sex.

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 debauchery offense carries a maximum prison sentence of three years. Contempt of religion is punishable by up to five years in jail.

The defendants were arrested May 11 on a Nile riverboat restaurant. Police originally said they were having a gay sex party, but prosecutors later changed tack and said the group was meeting with a self-styled preacher.

Gay men and lesbians long have kept a very low profile in Egypt. But many homosexuals say they have grown scared since the boat raid and speak about leaving the country.

In the past few years, Internet access has provided the gay community with a forum for discussion and meeting, something that hasn’t passed unnoticed.

In April, an American University of Cairo student was arrested and charged with committing an indecent act for touting himself on the Internet as a sex partner for interested males. Earlier this year, two other men were convicted of indecent acts for using the Internet to offer gay sex.

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