EGYPT: RIGHTS WITHOUT DISCRIMINATION

'We welcomed President Mubarak's earlier annulment of the verdict, leading to the release of 21 prisoners of conscience. However, we are clearly concerned at the decision of the Egyptian authorities to prosecute these men once again on charges which are discriminatory and violate their right to privacy', Amnesty International said.

The Egyptian Embassy in Zaghreb has recently written to Amnesty International stating that based on the right to privacy in international law, no one, including homosexuals, should be subjected to oppressive measures because of their sexual orientation. The letter also states: 'Egyptian law does not incriminate the practice of homosexuality if not performed in public', adding that 'homosexuals should not be subjected to any kind of discrimination'. However, the retrial of the 50 men demonstrates that charges of 'habitual debauchery' continue to be used to criminalize consensual homosexual relations in private.

Several of the men alleged that they were subjected to torture and ill-treatment, including beatings with a stick on the soles of the feet (falaka), during the first stages of their detention. Gays - or those perceived to be gays - face a heightened risk of torture and ill-treatment in police stations and prisons in Egypt.

Shortly after his arrest, one of the 50 men reported to the prosecutor that he had been subjected to torture in detention and showed him the resulting marks on his body. The prosecutor noted 'red vertical lines on the middle of the back ... which the accused alleged were the result of beating with a thin stick'. In a number of cases the defendants have stated in court that they were coerced into confessions which they afterwards withdrew.

Amnesty International has raised the allegations of torture and ill-treatment with the Egyptian authorities on several occasions. However, no investigations are known to have been conducted. According to Egypt's international obligations, all allegations of torture must be investigated promptly and impartially and statements made as a result of torture should never be invoked as evidence in court.

'The imprisonment of people solely for their perceived or actual sexual orientation constitutes a violation of the right to freedom from discrimination as guaranteed in international treaties', Amnesty International said. The organisation reiterates its call to the Egyptian authorities to release immediately and unconditionally anyone imprisoned solely for their perceived or actual sexual orientation.

Background

Charges of 'habitual debauchery' are based on Law 10 of 1961 on the Combat of Prostitution. Little definition is provided for 'debauchery' within the law itself, but the Egyptian judiciary has applied the term to same sex relations in the context of prostitution of men as well as consensual sexual relations between men in private.

In May 2001 some 60 men were arrested in Cairo, the majority of them while at a night club on a boat known as the Queen Boat. In June 2001, 52 of them were referred by presidential decree to the Emergency State Security Court for Misdemeanours in Cairo, an exceptional court established under emergency legislation. In November the court sentenced 23 men to prison terms of between one and five years. Twenty-one were convicted of ‘‘habitual debauchery'', one of ‘‘contempt of religion'' and another on both charges. Amnesty International has adopted 22 of the 23 men as prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release (see www.amnesty.org, Egypt: Torture and imprisonment for actual or perceived sexual orientation, December 2001 - AI Index: MDE 12/033/2001).

In May 2001 President Mubarak ratified the verdict of two of the 52 defendants who had been sentenced, in violation of international fair trial standards, to three and five years' imprisonment.

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