Another International Black Eye
The Cairo Times
Online, 2329 August 2001
Volume 5, Issue 24
As lawyers meddle out the details, international protests about the Queen
Boat case grow in strength
Dalia Dabbous reports
400 security forces surrounded the State Security Court where the Queen Boat
defendants were tried
For almost five hours, defense statements and requests were heard from over
45 lawyers speaking on behalf of the 52 defendants that were allegedly
arrested on the Queen boat, a popular gay hangout, in a case that has shocked
a conservative nation, created a field day for journalists, and sparked
worldwide criticism and protest.
Family members were refused entry into the courtroom at the second session
of the trial, which resumed on 15 August, and dozens of security personnel
were present to contain any scuffles that broke out, as happened in the
previous session on 15 July, when family members fought with reporters.
Unlike the first session, when defense lawyers did not have a chance to
make any requests or statements, this time they asked for the trial to be
moved from a State Security Court (Emergency)which deals with issues such
as contempt of Islamto a misdemeanor court since 50 of the defendants are
charged only with practicing debauchery.
If the case is moved to such a court, defendants may face up to three years
in prison, whereas the State Security Court could issue sentences as long as
five years. Misdemeanor Court also offers the option of appeal, whereas
emergency SSC rulings can only be appealed personally to the Military
Governor. Defense lawyers also asked that the defendants be released, a
request that was denied.
Prosecutor Ashraf Hilal opened by telling the court that the state
possessed 893 photos of the defendants in the act of practicing debauchery.
However, Taher Abu Nasr, a lawyer from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center who is
representing four of the defendants, said that the pictures only involve the
main defendant, Sherif Farahat, who is charged with among other things,
defaming Islam, falsely interpreting verses of the Holy Quran, along with
practicing gay sex. Farid Al Dib, Farahats lawyer, asked that the defense
be allowed to see the photos. The next hearing was scheduled for Aug. 29.
Although she was unable to see her brother, Hatem Ibrahim, at the court,
Amal Ibrahim Muhammad travels from Alexandria every 15 days, when relatives
are permitted to visit the defendants, to see him in prison and said he is
"He does not suffer from any mistreatment. I am allowed to give him
money, food, and other personal items," she said. Muhammad also said that
she is trying to provide his lawyer with documents that prove her brother is
an Alexandrian and was only in Cairo for a visit during the time of the
arrest. She maintains that her brother wasnt even on the boat and was
rounded up while walking nearby with friends on the Corniche.
The case has angered gay and lesbian groups worldwide and prompted protests
around the globe. In Stockholm, a demonstration in front of the Egyptian
embassy drew an estimated 30 to 40 participants. The protest was organized by
The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL),
and supported by the Swedish section of Amnesty International. In Geneva, 50
people demonstrated outside UN offices on the day of the hearing, holding up
letters in French that spelled out: "Human Rights in EgyptFree the 52
Gays" while another 50 people attended a San Francisco demonstration in
front of the Egyptian consulate organized by the San Francisco Bay Area
chapter of Al Fatiha, an international organization dedicated to Muslims who
are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. In New York, members of the city
council as well as local congressional representatives voiced their support
for demonstrations held outside the Egyptian consulate.
Members of the US Congress went further in their disapproval of the case by
sending a letter to President Mubarak describing the circumstances of the
trial as "indefensible," and pointing out that the assistance that
Egypt receives from the US comes from "a great number of taxpayers who
are gay and lesbian, and it (the support) is approved by members of Congress,
many of whom are fully supportive of the right of gay and lesbian people to be
free from discrimination and violence." The letter, which is signed by 35
house members, goes on to say that they are "concerned over the negative
impact this incident will have if it is uncorrected."
While international groups and organizations have been very vocal about
their concern, local human rights groups have been more reserved, many of them
coming under attack for their lack of participation in the case. Negad Al
Borei, former head of the Group for Democratic Development, sees it as a
matter of priorities. "There are a limited number of human rights
organizations and so many critical issues we need to address like womens
rights, prison torture, and discrimination," he says.
Hisham Kassem, President of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (and
publisher of the Cairo Times) says that despite the current trial, theres
no systematic persecution of Egyptian homosexuals. But even if there were,
Kassem said EOHRs position wouldnt differ. "We cant risk the
whole organization because of this single case," he said.
The fear among rights organizations isnt of a government clampdown,
Kassem said, but of losing all credibility with the majority of Egyptian
society. Already vilified by the state press as tools of sinister foreign
interests, human rights groups would completely lose the thin shred of public
support they still retain if they were perceived as encouraging and defending
homosexuality. "We wont be pressured by outside groups to change our
policy," he said.
Borei sees it in another light, pointing out that it is not a matter of
concern over being shut down, since human rights groups have for years been
involved in thorny issues such as persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood. Nor
is it even a case of homophobia. "I see this case on two levels of
involvement from local human rights groups. One level concerns any torture of
these prisoners and their right to a fair trial. The second level concerns
protection of their rights as homosexuals."
On the first level, Borei explaned, human rights groups such as the Hisham
Mubarak Law Center have provided lawyers for several of the defendants. Other
human rights groups, he said, have no problem getting involved if family
members or the defendants approach them and complain of prison torture.
"If they dont approach us, we cant help them," he said.
On the second level, Al Borei stressed that with Egypts limited human
rights organizations, homosexual rights just do not make it to the top of
their agenda. He added that maybe with the expansion of the human rights
movement, this state of affairs could change.
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