Last edited: February 14, 2005

‘Cairo 52’ Trial Ends; Controversies Go On / Network, October 17, 2001

By Ari Bendersky

SUMMARY: The trial of 52 men accused of engaging in homosexual acts on a riverboat in Cairo last May took some unsettling turns last week.

The case of the "Cairo 52," a group of men accused of engaging in homosexual acts on or near a riverboat in Cairo last May, took some unexpected and surprising turns last week.

At a hearing at Cairo’s High State Security Court on Oct. 10, the defense presented information contradicting police evidence relating to the arrests. According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), much of the evidence in the case has been inconsistent from the beginning of the trial, starting with the arrests of the accused.

Police in Cairo claim that, prior to the arrests, they had been surveying the homes of four of the men arrested on the Queen Boat, a floating nightclub on the Nile River. However, the four men in question had provided false names and addresses upon incarceration. The prosecution, upon learning this a few weeks into the case, told the court during the Oct. 10 hearing that the false names were actually the four men’s aliases.

"We have been following this case since its inception, and we discover more inconsistencies and irregularities every day," said Scott Long, IGLHRC’s Program Director. "The evidence in this case just does not add up."

Of the 52 men arrested for committing gay acts or who "looked gay," 19 were arrested away from the boat, some the next day. One man told the court that police arrested him while on a 48-hour leave from military service. This man, who was drunk at the time of his arrest, was to be released by a public prosecutor. However, he landed in jail with the other men arrested on the Queen Boat, according to IGLHRC.

Also in question is the membership of Sherif Farhat, the lead defendant in the case, in the Islamic terrorist group Jihad. According to Agence France-Presse, the prosecution accused Farhat of being a terrorist. Farhat’s lawyer argues that his client could not be both a member of Jihad and be gay, since homosexuality is shunned in Islam.

M. Faisal Alam, of the gay muslim group Al-Fatiha, called the "insinuation" that Farhat is a member of the Islamic Jihad "an excuse to justify the trial, especially in light of the new ‘war on terrorism.’"

The judge is scheduled to announce his verdicts on Nov. 14. The men accused in this case could each face up to five years in prison without the possibility of appealing the judge’s ruling.

The emergency state court is notorious for hearing human rights cases where people are put on trial without access to proper legal aid, family or friends, according to Michael Heflin, Director of the Outfront Program, Amnesty International’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender outreach. Amnesty has expressed concern about the trial from the beginning with the feeling that much of the evidence has been fabricated.

"The way these 52 men are being treated [in this court] is not unique. These are serious allegations, and the men are subjected to torture and ill treatment," Heflin said. "Our main view is that if these men are being held on the basis of homosexual activity; the fact they can be put in prison for that is fundamentally wrong."

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