- January 12, 2015
Today, HRC responds to the recent news of an Egyptian court’s decision to acquit 26 men after they were arrested on charges of “debauchery” during a December 7 police raid on a Cairo bathhouse.
“While the courts were right to acquit the men, noting the weakness of the case against them this verdict should not give the Egyptian government a free pass to continue to persecute its LGBT citizens. Until the regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi demonstrates its commitment to protecting the human rights of all its citizens, the international community will monitor and shine a light on Egypt’s acts to imprison LGBT people. Engaging in witch hunts against the LGBT community in order to enhance the el-Sisi regime's conservative credentials is wrong, and harms innocent people,” said Ty Cobb, Director of HRC Global.
According to Buzzfeed News, part of the acquittal was due to holes in the prosecution's arguments. In addition to this, there were allegations that the arrested men had been mistreated, and possibly raped while in custody.
According to reports, the arrest came after Egyptian journalist, Mona Iraqi, led the the Egyptian police to the bathhouse. Following the arrest, she faced sharp international criticism and was ultimately relieved of her position as the Egyptian representative of a Swiss film festival, Schnit. During the trial, the prosecution allegedly disputed Iraqi’s claim of leading the Egyptian police to the arrest site, but could not dispute her overall involvement.
“It’s disturbing that this case, and the harm it caused to these 26 people, was the result of a sensationalist journalist colluding with the Egyptian government in its efforts to terrorize individuals suspected of being LGBT,” said Cobb.
This trial took place in a worsening human rights environment in Egypt. Civil society in Egypt is suffering severe restrictions, including a sweeping crackdown on organizations, suppression of political protests, excessive use of police force and arrest and trial without due process.
According to Buzzfeed, since October 2014 more than 80 people have been arrested on allegations relating to their sexual orientation or gender identity. On November 1, eight Egyptian men were convicted and given harsh prison sentences after appearing in a video depicting an alleged same-sex wedding, and on December 29 Egyptian police arrested a 25 year old transgender woman for posting videos of herself dancing on YouTube. These arrests and convictions marginalize LGBT Egyptians, encourage social stigma and violence, impede community access to HIV/AIDS and other health services, and may force many to flee the country.
The increase in LGBT arrests is seen by many as a political action by el-Sisi. Facing allegations that he is “too secular” or “immoral,” some analysts believe that el-Sisi and his police force have targeted the LGBT community to gain popular support and prove their conservative credentials. The police have allegedly worked with “informer journalists,” like Iraqi, to ensure that all of these arrests and crackdowns are made highly visible to the public. Much like this latest raid in Cairo, these arrests are often broadcast in order to shame the individuals arrested, and to alienate them from their families and communities.
While same-sex relations are not specifically outlawed in Egypt, the men were arrested on charges of “debauchery,” an allegation that is often used as a pretense to arrest men and women suspected of identifying as LGBT.