Last edited: February 14, 2005

‘Immorality’ Trial Reconvenes in Egypt

Reuters, August 29, 2001

By Andrew Hammond

SUMMARY: Lawyers for 52 suspected gay men told an Egyptian judge the case had no place in a court where they had no right of appeal.

CAIRO — Lawyers for 52 suspected homosexual men charged with immoral behavior told an Egyptian judge on Wednesday the case had no place in a state security court where they had no right of appeal.

Police arrested the men in May during a Nile River raid on a floating nightclub called the "Queen Boat," known locally as a popular gay venue.

"Emergency State Security Courts have only one level of litigation. There is no appeal. It is illegitimate to deprive these people of the right to take further legal action," attorney Taher Abu Nasr told the court.

The trial, in its third session since starting in July, has drawn the criticism of international rights groups which say the men are being tried for their sexual orientation and denied freedom of speech and association.

Security forces with batons kept back angry family members as the men were led to the courtroom and into a large black cage for defendants. Some hid their faces and looked traumatized.

One of five Western diplomats at the trial told Reuters later: "We are concerned about the case, and we attach great importance to freedom of sexual orientation."

The case, which has received extensive coverage in the local as well as international media, has aroused strong passions in conservative Egypt.

"It’s not permitted. It’s not a matter of personal choice, as it is in some other Western communities," an official source told Reuters.

Defendants told reporters that support by gay rights groups was unwelcome. "It will only make things worse," one said.

Two face additional charges

On Wednesday lawyers said 50 of the defendants should be tried in an ordinary civilian court.

All 52, who pleaded not guilty, face charges of "practicing sexual immorality" — seen locally as a euphemism for homosexuality — with a maximum penalty of three years and a minimum fine of 300 Egyptian pounds ($70).

But 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.

Prosecutor Ashraf Helal told the court it is because of those more serious charges that the men were being tried in a state security court under Egypt’s emergency laws.

The laws have been in place since 1981 to counter Muslim militant violence and mean sentences can only be overturned via a petition to President Hosni Mubarak.

Helal said that one of the main defendants "met with his followers weekly on a tourist boat and they engaged in wanton acts with each other."

But lawyers argued there was no connection between the 50 men facing the lesser charges and the first two defendants.

They said evidence of 893 photos, which prosecutors said showed the men in indecent positions, bolstered their argument, since only up to five of the accused were seen in the pictures.

"There is no connection between the crime allegedly committed by the first two and other 50 ... Sherif (the first defendant) said himself during interrogation that he only knows two of the others," said lawyer Osama Abu-Nil.

Defendants told reporters through the cage that they had been whipped by police when first arrested.

"They whipped us all to be quiet and then forced us all to say that we were gay," one said.

The case continues on Sept. 5.

[Home] [News] [Egypt]