Activists: Egypt Tortures Suspected Gays
United Press International, November 16, 2001
CAIRO—Only one day after a court sentenced 23
allegedly gay men to between one and five years of hard labor, an Egyptian
newspaper reported on Thursday a new case against four presumed homosexuals
who are also likely to face criminal charges.
International gay rights activists, already outraged by the court case, are
now warning that gays in Egypt may be under threat of systematic persecution.
Local rights groups, however, have been mostly reluctant to intervene, feeling
that any support of homosexuality could mean the end of a fledging civil
society movement in socially conservative Egypt.
The Egyptian state daily Al Akbar wrote on Nov. 15 that police in the Cairo
neighborhood of Giza had arrested four men who had turned their apartment into
a "den of perversion." The men are being held in detention on
suspicion of "habitual practice of debauchery," the same charge
leveled at 52 men arrested at a Cairo nightspot earlier this year.
Although they have not been formally charged yet, public prosecution
services are holding them in prison under administrative detention.
In May, a police crackdown on the Queen Boat, a Nileside floating bar and
disco and reputed gay hangout, led to the arrest of 55 men. Of those, 52 were
charged with "habitual practice of debauchery," and two of them—considered
to be the ringleaders in a gay sex party—have also been charged with
contempt of religion.
Although homosexuality is not specifically referred to in the Egyptian
legal code, prosecutors have been able to charge the men under a vague law
relating to prostitution and obscene behavior.
"This new case is eerily similar to the Cairo 52 case," stated
Scott Long, Program Director with the International Gay and Lesbian Human
Rights Commission, an organization that monitors discrimination against
homosexuals. "Presumed homosexuals arrested at random under the same law
on prostitution, beaten in prison, and vilified by the media, while police
fabricate facts that do not add up."
Long, who came to Egypt to monitor the case, spoke with one of the arrested
men in a Cairo police station. Speaking in tears, the man said that he was
forced to strip naked and beaten, splashed with cold water and left hanging by
the bars of his prison cell, Long said.
An Egyptian gay rights activist who did not want his name mentioned also
told United Press International that, contrary to police claims, the four men
were not arrested together. He also said that two of the men were picked up
from the streets seemingly at random. These charges of torture and wrongful
arrest are similar to those reportedly experienced by some defendants in the
Cairo 52 case.
The Cairo 52 is not an isolated case," Long said. "It is becoming
clearer that persecution of homosexuals is a major human rights issue in
Egypt. The international community should be clear with Egypt as well in
demanding the Egyptian government to stop these abuses now."
Earlier in the week, the final verdict for the four-month-long trial was
handed down in a state security court in the Cairo neighborhood of Bab Al
Khalq. Crammed in a small courtroom cage, 52 presumed homosexual men were
handed down a mixed verdict.
Although 29 of the defendants were acquitted of all charges, 23 were given
one to five-year sentences. The final session of the trial, known as the
"Cairo 52 case" or "Queen Boat case," took place in chaos
has many of the lawyers involved in the case were barred from entering the
Only a small contingent of lawyers, activists, journalists and diplomats
were allowed—seemingly randomly—to enter the courtroom. The judge’s
speedy reading of the verdict in the noisy courtroom also led to much
confusion, as most observers could not make out what the judge was saying.
It took over two hours for the verdict to become clear—leaving many
friends and relatives of the defendants frustrated. One man, whose friend was
among the defendants, lurched out at cameramen in a fit of anger, shouting,
"There is no justice!" as he mistakenly believed his friend has been
convicted. He later discovered he had been acquitted.
Family members were the most dismayed, with women weeping out loud and
invoking God or distributing sweets to passers-by depending on the verdict.
The four-month long trial has taken a particularly heavy toll on families, as
Egypt’s tabloid press published the names of the defendants and in some
cases doctored pictures showing them in Israeli uniforms.
Social stigma over homosexuality may mean that, even if acquitted, many
defendants will not be able to return to their normal lives. Since the trial
took place in a State Security Court, the defendants have no right to appeal.
Under Egypt’s 1981 Emergency Law, State Security Court rulings must be
ratified by the military governor, who is the president of the Republic.
Although rights activists are appealing to Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak,
they think he is unlikely to pardon the Queen Boat case defendants, whom have
drawn little public sympathy.
One Egyptian gay rights activist present at the hearing, who did not want
his name to be published, suggested that Mubarak may have been behind the
verdict, as State Security Courts are not considered to be independent from
Nevertheless, activists are trying to put pressure on Egypt’s leader to
pardon the men. Long said he hoped Mubarak would reverse the ruling.
"The decision now lies with President Mubarak," Long stressed.
But he also accused Egypt’s government of using the defendants as scapegoats
at a time when Egypt is in economic and political difficulty. "The
government is creating a distraction. It is taking the position of the
fundamentalist right, which is usually the victims of these courts."
State Security Courts have been mostly used against Islamic fundamentalist
over the past 20 years, ranging from the peaceful and popular Muslim
Brotherhood movement to terrorist organizations such as Gamaa Al Islamiya and
Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which conducted a wave of terrorist attacks in the
1990s and are thought to have links with Osama Bin Laden.
Egyptian human rights activists are now worried that the use of State
Security Courts is spreading to include other forms of opposition. Over the
past year, the courts have been used against civil society voices such as
American University in Cairo sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an
American-Egyptian academic, who worked on election monitoring programs.
Ibrahim was sentenced to seven years of jail last summer despite international
pressure to free him.
However, local rights groups have been reluctant to defend the Queen Boat
case defendants, with only one organization, the Hisham Mubarak Center,
providing legal aid for eight of the defendants. Other organizations have
steered clear of the case.
"In my mind I have no doubt that this is a rights case,"
explained Hisham Kassem, president of the Egyptian Organization of Human
Rights. "But sometimes you have to make tough decisions. We are already
seen as fifth columnists who get money from abroad, if we defend (the Queen
Boat defendants) we will be seen as introducing homosexuality to Egypt. It
would kill the concept of human rights in Egypt."
Foreign activists such as Long have little sympathy for this argument.
"These men have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, torture and trial
without the possibility of appeal," he said. "These are not
sexuality issues, they are human rights issues. They (local rights
organizations) should not let the government play divide and conquer."
Although there is the possibility of defendants taking their case to the
U.N. Commission of Human Rights, observers think that the current
international situation may not favor the prospects of the Queen Boat case
defendants. With the United States striving to keep the coalition against
terrorism together despite Arab fears that the war on terrorism is turning
into a war against Islam, human rights issues such as the Queen Boat case or
the jailing of Saad Eddin Ibrahim are likely to play second fiddle to more
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