Last edited: February 14, 2005

Courthouse Nightmare

Cairo Times, July 26, 2001
Volume 5, Issue 21

By Dalia Dabbous

The chaotic opening of the trial of the 52 defendants in the Queen Boat trial ended before it began

It was a scene that would remain in the minds of those who were present at the Abdeen State Security Court on July 15 for a long time.

On one side of the bleak, stuffy, courthouse sat 52 men allegedly arrested on the Queen Boat on 11 May, ranging in age from late teens to late 40s, dressed in prison garb-white t-shirts and white cotton pants. Many were sobbing and wailing, covering their faces from photographers with tissues or pieces of cloth. Others sat passively with looks of disbelief on their faces.

On the other side of the court, relatives, reporters, and lawyers squeezed into any space they could find, and many relatives could not make it into the courtroom. As cameras started clicking, relatives and defendants went into an uproar, screaming obscenities at the press. One of the defendants collapsed in a fit of screaming.

"Why have they done this to our youth? Even if he comes out not guilty, they have tarnished his reputation forever," one woman cried of her brother, a doctor.

After more than 15 minutes of trying to bring order to the court, the names of all of the defendants were called out to make sure each was present and prosecutor Ashraf Hilal stated the charges. The two main defendants, Sherif Farahat and Mahmoud Ahmad Allam, stand accused of a range of religious offenses including "exploiting the Islamic religion to spread deviant ideas, contempt of religion, and falsely interpreting verses of the Holy Quran," as well as practicing gay sex "as part of the group’s rituals."

The remaining defendants were charged with practicing gay sex. Such offenses can carry up to five years in prison. Although homosexuality is not specifically referred to in Egyptian law, there are regulations regarding "offenses against public morals and sensibilities" that are being applied in this case.

As soon as the charges were heard, the defendants went into an uproar, pleading their innocence. "That never happened! This is unjust," screamed one of the defendants as many started to recite the shihada in unison.

Outside the court, a furious Adel Shindy, lawyer for two defendants, complained to reporters that the court did not even bother to hear the defense’s requests, and adjourned the trial until 15 August. "We only needed one week to prepare the case. One month will really hurt the defendants," he said, brushing away a photographer. "We don’t want to take photos. We are asking for people’s rights," he shouted.

Although many of the defendants face similar charges, there’s no group defense planned and a small tribe of defense lawyers is involved.

Farahat’s lawyer, Farid Al Dib, told reporters that his client was "psychologically unbalanced," and had a passion for knowing each and every location of every churches and synagogue in Egypt, which in his view, reflected a troubled individual.

Many family members and defendants claimed that the arrests were made without any evidence although Hilal stated that investigations into the case have been ongoing since 1996.

"My brother wasn’t even on this boat," Amal Ibrahim Muhammad told the Cairo Times. Muhammad explained that her brother, Hatem

Ibrahim, 28, an Alexandrian, was visiting a close friend in Cairo, Amir Al Olaly, also arrested in the case. "They were taking a walk on the Corniche with some friends, including two females, when police became suspicious of my brother’s friend due to his strong build, and arrested him." According to Muhammad, when Ibrahim went with his friend to find out why he was being arrested, they arrested him as well.

In an interview with the Cairo Times, Taher Abou Nasr, a lawyer from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center who represents four of the defendants, said the various defense teams would receive detailed copies of the investigations this week. Abou Nasr criticized the validity of both the police investigation methods and the medical examination each defendant underwent to determine if he had engaged in anal sex.

The defendants have complained of torture and forced confessions. "They threatened to beat him if he did not sign his name under a statement [confessing to the charges]," Muhammad said.

One defendant in the courtroom cell cried out, "We have gone through hell."

Although many human rights groups have condemned the case, others have distanced themselves for fear of being attacked. Organizations such as Amnesty International have come under attack for their condemnation of the case. In a statement, Amnesty International said that it "believes that the vilification and persecution of persons for their sexuality violate the most fundamental principles of international human rights law."

Rose Al Youssef magazine fired back on 21 June, saying that "Amnesty International surprised everybody by its statement in defending a group of perverts... Amnesty International considered the process of legally punishing these people as an act against human rights!"

Muhammad, who says she is from a deeply religious family, is certain of her brother’s innocence but says that if she was even one percent unsure of it, she would accept his punishment, reflecting the view of many Egyptians who frown on homosexuality.

Media coverage of this incident by Egyptian newspapers has also fueled negative sentiments towards the defendants. It has centered on the alleged sexual orientation of the men, showing doctored internet pictures of men kissing or in bed together, and in some cases, detailed information pertaining to the men has been published in the press.

Abou Nasr sees this as an attempt by the state "to pull the ears" of homosexuals and set an example to the gay community in Egypt. If that is this the case, then it has probably worked since many gays have reportedly left Egypt following the raid, and gay men have been advising each other to avoid going to gay hang outs for fear of being arrested.

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