Egypt: Trial of 52 men jailed because of their alleged sexual orientation continues

The Washington Blade
Egyptian defendant accused of terrorist link.
At least 55 men were arrested on May 11, 2001, in a police raid on a Cairo discotheque believed to be a gathering place for homosexuals. 52 of these men now face trial for "obscene behavior"; the adolescent convicted on September 18 was apparently tried under this or a similar provision. Two defendants still facing trial are also charged with "contempt for religion." All the accused have been jailed continuously since their arrest more than four months ago. All the adults face trial before an Emergency State Security Court, whose decisions allow no ordinary appeal. Their trial opened on August 15, and has proceeded with sessions in irregular succession since.
Source: The Washington Blade
Date: 19 October 2001
By Kim Krisberg
A man considered to be a lead defendant in an Egyptian case against 52 men, many of whom were arrested at a gay gathering place on the Nile called the Queen Boat, has now been accused of being a member of Jihad, an Islamic terrorist organization with links to the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden.

According to Sharon Burke, Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, defendant Sherif Hassan Farahat was accused of having links to Jihad in interrogation records, but the accusation did not appear in the indictment of Farahat. The Jihad issue was raised again in the courtroom Sept. 5, before the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., according to Amnesty.

Faisal Alam, founder and director of Al-Fatiha, a gay Muslim group that has been watching the case, said all 52 men have been accused of being part of a religious cult. This accusation, he said, is tantamount to "organizing to undermine state," which can be considered a terrorist activity. This is why the men are being tried in a State Security Court instead of a civil court. Alam said that although the defendants were accused of "terrorist" activities before the Sept. 11 attacks, the link to Jihad was not made until early October. He said he believes the Egyptian government is taking advantage of the attacks on the United States to make a case. "Egypt is going to use terrorism as an excuse to crack down on the local gay community," he said.

On the night of May 11, 2001, Egyptian police raided the Queen Boat discotheque, a gay gathering place, and arrested at least 55 men, though reports from human rights groups state that 19 of those men were arrested elsewhere. After the arrests, all of the men were considered suspected "homosexuals," according the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission. A few detainees were later released, but 52 men have been brought before an Emergency State Security Court, where verdicts cannot be appealed.

According to IGLHRC, 50 defendants have been charged with "obscene behavior" under a law against prostitution, and two more men have incurred an additional charge of "contempt for religion." All 52 have pleaded innocent and are presenting individual defenses. A juvenile defendant has already been sentenced, on Sept. 18, to the maximum of three years in prison followed by three years of probation. But because the case was tried in a juvenile court, the decision can be appealed, an action that is scheduled for Oct. 31.

A press officer at the Embassy of Egypt in Washington DC, Magide Elabyad, said the men have been charged only with "holding material in contempt of religion" and that the arrests have nothing to do with the men’s sexual orientations. He said he did not know what the materials in question were. He also said allegations by human rights groups that the men have been subject to torture is completely untrue. "Anything that happens will be fair," he said.

Burke said that the charges keep changing due in part to the fact that there is no specific law in Egypt against homosexuality, so police and prosecution have to keep bringing forth charges to justify the arrests.

Alam said he believes the Egyptian embassy denies that the men were arrested for being gay because confirming the accusation would acknowledge the presence of gay Egyptians.

Scott Long, director of programs and research at IGLHRC, said any accusations brought against the men should be taken skeptically. "I wouldn’t trust anything the prosecutors say," Long said.

Burke at Amnesty agreed, saying the "[terrorist] charge is suspect, given the timing. But by all means, if they think this is the truth, let’s see the evidence," she said.

Burke said that regardless of a person’s affiliation with a group, Amnesty believes all deserve a fair trial, and that Amnesty does not adopt as "a prisoner of conscience" anyone who supports violence.

A verdict in the case is expected to be announced Nov. 14.

Concern over foreign policy

Besides the current Egyptian case, many human rights groups are worried about how the attacks on the United States will affect their ability to influence U.S. foreign policy. There is worry that the United States might be more willing to overlook human rights abuses when forming or strengthening coalitions with countries in the war against terrorism.

Burke said if the United States wants to have sound long-term ties with countries such as Egypt, then human rights concerns must be kept in mind. "We would urge the U.S. government to keep human rights on the agenda," she said.

Sydney Levy, communications director at IGLHRC, said he worries that the Egyptian government will think it has more free range to pursue the country’s gay community and violate human rights with the United States turning a blind eye in the name of coalitions to fight terrorism. "There is a combination of things in the Egypt case that after Sept. 11 will make it harder to work," he said.

In August, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak explaining their disapproval over the arrests of the 52 men. In the letter, they wrote: "We believe close cooperation between Egypt and the United States on many issues is in our mutual interest, and this adds to our concern over the negative impact his incident will have if it is uncorrected."

Daniel McGlinchey, a legislative aide to Frank, said the congressmember recently spoke up during a mark-up meeting of the subcommittee on International Monetary Policy, which authorizes funds to development banks that fund projects in countries such as Egypt. Frank said he would use his position on the Financial Services Committee, where he is the second-highest-ranking Democrat, to push for taking human rights issues into account when development banks vote for projects in certain countries, and specifically invoked the case of the juvenile that was sentenced Sept. 18.

McGlinchey said Frank is in the process of writing a letter to the Egyptian ambassador to the United States saying that he will take into account Egypt’s treatment of gay people when dealing with funds for that country. In the letter, Frank writes that the imprisonment of the juvenile "was inhumane and completely counter to a fundamental respect for human rights." The letter, according to McGlinchey, will be sent this week.

Al-Fatiha is planning to renew its campaign of bombarding Egyptian embassies around the world with letters, faxes, e-mails, and phone calls criticizing the country’s human rights record. The group is also planning a candlelight vigil for the "Cairo 52" the night before the verdict is be handed down on the evening of Nov. 13.