Egypt: Love is a human right - Amnesty International calls for end to persecution of gay men

Amnesty International is concerned that the Egyptian authorities are pursuing a policy of systematic persecution of men perceived to be gay. There have been scores of arrests of men in clubs, in bars, and in their own homes, and numerous cases of telephone bugging and the use of internet chat-rooms to entrap men. There are allegations that those arrested have been tortured and ill-treated in detention.

Linda Wilkinson, Chair of Amnesty International UK, said:

'It beggars belief to hear the Egyptian government maintain that homosexuality is not a criminal offence in Egypt when there is clear evidence that charges of debauchery and prostitution are being used to criminalise consensual homosexual relations. Discrimination on grounds of sexuality is categorically forbidden in international human rights law. Egypt has been warned by the UN to end such persecution, and to begin investigations immediately into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment.'

On the evening of 10 May 2001 the police arrested more than 60 men in Cairo, the majority of whom were on the Queen Boat, a night club moored on the Nile. The men were subsequently prosecuted for 'habitual debauchery' and 'crimes against religion' in a mass trial - the largest ever in Egypt's history for such offences - and were sentenced to up to five years in prison.

The Egyptian authorities have also shown a disturbing willingness to use modern means of communication to pursue men perceived to be gay in their private lives. Telephones have been bugged, leading to the arrests and convictions of 14 men in April this year, and there have been a series of internet entrapment cases.

Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Wassim Tawfiq Abyad, was convicted of 'habitual debauchery' and sentenced to 15 months imprisonment after using a website to set up a meeting with a man, believed to have been a police informant. Electronic conversations exchanged between the two men online were used as evidence in court.

Amnesty International is running a global campaign to increase awareness of and fight the persecution of people for their sexuality. More than 70 countries have laws prohibiting same sex relations which violate the fundamental human right to freedom from discrimination enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International has written to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, asking him to raise these grave human rights concerns with the Egyptian government as a matter of urgency.

Linda Wilkinson added:

'This systematic persecution of those perceived to be gay is a blatant and unacceptable breach of Egypt's human rights obligations. The Egyptian government must release immediately and unconditionally all those imprisoned solely on grounds of their sexuality. The international community must make it clear to Egypt that there will be consequences if it continues to treat people this way.'

While others take part in actions in the US, France, Germany, the Philippines and Hong Kong as part of the Global Day of Action this Saturday, Amnesty International is inviting people from all over the UK to join a demonstration at Cleopatra's Needle in central London. There will be music, speeches and demonstrators wearing masks - as worn by the Queen Boat 50 during their trial. Those attending are asked to wear red in solidarity with a clandestine gay pride demonstration taking place in Egypt.

For more information on Amnesty International's LGBTI network, please visit www.ailgbt.co.uk.

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