Egypt: Verdict imminent on mass trial for sexual orientation

Amnesty International is concerned that the Egyptian authorities are pursuing a proactive policy of arresting and imprisoning men on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

The original trial, known as the 'Queen Boat case', opened in 2001 after 60 men were arrested one evening in Cairo, the majority at a night club boat moored on the Nile. They were charged with 'habitual debauchery' and 'contempt of religion,' and 23 were sentenced to up to five years imprisonment. All of the men were subject to anal examinations after their arrests, which have been condemned by the UN Committee on Human Rights, and many of those arrested have alleged that they have been tortured or subject to ill-treatment during their detention.

Amnesty International has reported that although Egyptian officials maintain that, 'homosexuality is not a criminal offence in itself,' there is widespread evidence in ongoing trials and criminal convictions that 'habitual debauchery' is being used to criminalise consensual homosexual relations. Cases of allegedly gay men being detained after having agreed to meet people contacted over the internet, who turned out to be police informants, point to a wide scale state policy of persecution of men perceived to be gay.

Last month a court of appeal in Cairo upheld a sentence of 15 months imprisonment of Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Wissam Tawfiq Abyad, a 26-year-old Lebanese national, for his alleged sexual orientation. In January this year Mr Abyad was arrested when he went to meet a contact he had made on a gay website, who turned out to be a police informant. Electronic conversations which they had exchanged over the Internet in private were used as evidence against him.

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.

Nora Cranston, Amnesty International campaigner for LGBTI equality, said: 'This kind of hunting down and entrapment of men for their perceived sexuality by the authorities creates a climate where officials and communities alike can persecute, torture and kill others because of their sexual identity. State-sponsored hatred and persecution of this nature must be opposed by the whole international community, and the Egyptian government called upon to release immediately and unconditionally anyone imprisoned solely for their actual or perceived sexual orientation.'

Background

In May 2001 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. 21 were convicted of 'habitual debauchery', one of 'contempt of religion,' and another on both charges. These offences relate to a statute on prostitution.

In May 2002 President Mubarak annulled the verdict of 50 of the 52 men tried in 2001 in connection with their alleged sexual orientation and as a consequence 21 prisoners of conscience were released. However, he upheld prison terms imposed on two men in the same case. A retrial of the 50 other men opened in July 2002 before a criminal court in the Qasr al-Nil district of Cairo.

More information

For information on discrimination against and persecution of people on grounds of sexuality throughout the world, visit http://www.ai-lgbt.org/status_worldwide.htm .

For information about Amnesty International's LGBTI network, visit www.ailgbt.co.uk or email rainbow@amnesty.org.uk

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