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Egypt: proposed new law criminalising same-sex relations could see long prison sentences

An LGBTI crackdown has been underway in Egypt after a rainbow flag was raised at a concert in Cairo on 22 September

‘Deeply discriminatory’ bill comes after rainbow flag LGBTI crackdown, with at least 75 arrested

Those convicted could be jailed for 15 years

Authorities could publicly ‘shame’ those jailed by publishing names and sentences in national newspapers

More than 60 members of the Egyptian Parliament have proposed a “deeply discriminatory” law that will explicitly criminalise same-sex sexual activity in the country for the first time.

The draft law, the latest development since the Egyptian authorities launched an unprecedented LGBTI-related crackdown after a rainbow flag was displayed at a concert in Cairo in September, defines “homosexuality” for the first time and sets penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment.

In some cases, a person could be jailed for 15 years if convicted on multiple charges under different provisions of the law. 

The bill, comprising seven articles, sets penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for engaging in same-sex sexual relations. “Promoting or inciting homosexuality” is also punishable by up to five years in prison. The draft law also prohibits the public promotion or advertising of any LGBTI gatherings or parties, whether through audio or video publications or via social media. The penalty set for such acts is up to three years’ imprisonment. Displaying an LGBTI symbol or sign, or producing, promoting, selling or marketing such products would also be punishable by up to three years in prison.

The new bill also includes a clause that allows the authorities to publicly “shame” individuals convicted under the draft law by publishing their names and sentences in two widely-read national newspapers, potentially fuelling widespread stigma against people perceived to be gay in the country.

In addition, the bill also states that those convicted would face probation periods after they’d served their sentence, for a duration equivalent to the prison term received. Amnesty has found that those under probation in Egypt are often forced to stay in a local police station for 12 hours a day, meaning they’re effectively deprived of their liberty. 

Riad Abdel Sattar, an MP from the Free Egyptians party, proposed the new law after collecting at least 67 signatures from fellow MPs. The draft bill is expected to be reviewed and discussed by the parliament during its current session and, if voted for, will be sent to the president for sign-off. Currently, the Egyptian authorities have used the country’s prostitution law (law no 10 from 1961) to charge people suspected of engaging in same-sex sexual activity with “habitual debauchery” - an offence punishable by up to three years in prison.

Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns Director, said:

“This deeply discriminatory bill would be a huge setback for human rights and another nail in the coffin for sexual rights in Egypt.

“If passed, this law would further entrench stigma and abuse against people based on their perceived sexual orientation. 

“Not only does this draft law propose to criminalise same sex sexual relations - which should not be an offence in the first place - it is also intended to fuel stigma, humiliation and hatred against people based on their real or perceived sexual orientation.

“For more than a month now the Egyptian authorities have waged a vicious crackdown targeting LGBTI people in the country. More than 70 people have been arrested and some have been subjected to anal examinations that amount to torture. 

“The Egyptian authorities must urgently scrap this draft law and put an end to this alarming wave of homophobic persecution.”

A 1994 ruling by the UN Human Rights Committee found that laws criminalising consensual sex in private between adults of the same sex violated the right to privacy as guaranteed by Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Wave of arrests

According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights organisation, at least 75 people from different governorates across Egypt have been arrested since the LGBTI crackdown began on 22 September, with most of them entrapped through online dating apps. At least five men among those arrested were subjected to anal examinations amounting to torture, and at least 20 were sentenced to between six-month and six-year prison terms in significantly-expedited trials. The rest of the detainees are held in different prisons and police stations pending questioning by prosecutors.

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