Last edited: February 14, 2005

Egypt "Gay" Trial Verdict Due, Rights Groups Wary

Reuters, November 13, 2001

By Cynthia Johnston

CAIRO—An Egyptian court’s verdict on 52 alleged homosexuals on trial for sexual immorality, due on Wednesday, will be closely watched by international rights groups which have sharply criticised the trial.

The men could face up to three years in jail, although Egyptian law does not expressly forbid homosexuality, if convicted of the main charge of "practising sexual immorality," a euphemism for homosexuality.

They were arrested in May after a raid on a floating nightclub called the Queen Boat, a popular gay venue. The trial began in July in a state security court under emergency laws in place since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Two defendants are also charged with "forming a group which aims to exploit the Islamic religion to propogate extremist ideas" and "denigrating monotheistic religions," which carry a maximum sentence of seven years, a defence lawyer said.

All the defendants have denied the charges. Under the emergency laws they have no right to appeal against the verdict.

International rights groups have said they are on trial for their sexual orientation and for exercising freedom of speech and association.

Defence lawyer Taher Abul Nasr said he was hopeful some of the accused would be acquitted.

"There will be a large number of them who are innocent... There is no proof," said Abul Nasr, who represents seven of the accused.

"But it would be very difficult for all 52 to be (found) innocent... Of course they have hope," he told Reuters.

Human Rights Concerns

Analysts have voiced concern that political and social concerns might outweigh the letter of the law in the case.

"I think this is political. The judgment too may be political," said Nasser Amin, head of the Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary, a local pressure group.

"The government needed to send a message to the people in Egypt: We have rules. We have some Islamic rules," he said.

Some analysts say an acquittal could be seen as giving ammunition to Islamists seeking to show that the government does not respect Islamic law, which proscribes homosexuality.

International rights groups have flocked to defend the men, and have demonstrated in Western cities against the trial. Amnesty International said the case might violate "basic standards for fair trial" because the men could not appeal.

Egypt has rejected the criticism, saying its courts are free and fair.

"The judiciary in Egypt enjoys complete independence by the constitution. No one can interfere at all," government spokesman Nabil Osman said, declining further discussion.

Another government official said the West should not impose its sense of values on Egypt.

"We have to judge every society by its norms. If homosexuality is accepted in other societies, that’s their business... In this society, homosexuality is a shameful act," the official said.

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