Egypt's LGBTI Community Fleeing amid Worst Crackdown in Almost Two Decades

Published October 3rd, 2017 - 10:15 GMT
Egyptian men, accused of having gay sex, cover their faces as they walk into a Cairo court 18 July 2001 (AFP File Photo/Andrew Black)
Egyptian men, accused of having gay sex, cover their faces as they walk into a Cairo court 18 July 2001 (AFP File Photo/Andrew Black)
  • Three people have been jailed for 'debauchery' and more than more 30 others arrested after Egypt launched a brutal crackdown on the country's LGBTI community
  • The wave of arrests comes after the Public Prosecutor said he would launch an investigation after a rainbow flag was raised at a concert by Lebanese group Mashrou Leila
  • Reports say that those arrested have undergone forced anal examinations, a practice widely condemned as torture
  • The crackdown is the worst of its kind since 52 men were arrested aboard the Queen Nile boat in 2001

    Egypt’s LGBTI community is facing the worst crackdown in almost two decades with widespread sexual assault and torture being carried out against those detained.

So far, police have arrested at least 33 people - with 22 of those arrested in the recent days.

The wave of arrests comes after the Public Prosecutor announced an investigation after revelers waved a rainbow flag, often seen as supportive of LGBTI rights, at a concert by Lebanese group Mashrou Leila.

The Forensic Medical Authority has carried out forced anal examinations on at least five of those arrested.

The practice, which has been medically debunked, is considered sexual assault and torture by rights groups.

“In a matter of days the Egyptian security forces have rounded up dozens of people and carried out five anal examinations signaling a sharp escalation in the authorities’ efforts to persecute and intimidate members of the LGBTI community following the rainbow flag incident,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.

“Forced anal examinations are tantamount to torture – there is no scientific basis for such tests and they cannot be justified under any circumstances,” she added.

The latest wave of arrests comes following widespread outrage after photos of the flag were shared on social media. Six people were arrested in connection with the flag waving at the Mashrou Leila concert.

However, dozens more have been arrested from the street and police are also reported to be using popular dating apps to track alleged members of the LGBTI community.

The news has caused many within Egypt’s LGBTI community to flee as activists warn others to avoid meeting people that they do not know amid fears of further arrests.

While some with foreign passports, visas or financial backing may have the means to flee abroad, the reality is that most are left fearing arrrest at any moment in their home country.

“Whether they were waving a rainbow flag, chatting on a dating app, or minding their own business in the streets, all these debauchery arrest victims should be immediately released,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“The Egyptian government, by rounding people up based on their presumed sexual orientation, is showing flagrant disregard for their rights. Egypt should stop dedicating state resources to hunting people down for what they allegedly do in their bedrooms, or for expressing themselves at a rock concert, and should instead focus energy on improving its dire human rights record,” she added.

Two people have been jailed following a “debauchery” trial on Sunday. Both men were sentenced in separate cases. One who had been lured into a meeting with undercover police officers using a gay dating app was sentenced to three years in prison with three years probation.

The other man was sentenced to two years in jail with two years probation. Last week a court in Cairo sentenced a student to six years in prison and an EGP 300 fine for “practicing debauchery”.

Homosexuality is not strictly illegal under Egyptian law but prosecutors use terms such as “debauchery” to jail those accused of homosexual acts.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, says at least 10 people were arrested between Sept. 28 and Sept. 30 and put on trial alongside another six who were arrested earlier in the week. The verdict in the trial of all 16 men has been scheduled for Oct. 29.

Police also detained one man was detained in the city of Damietta in relation to the rainbow flag incident. Meanwhile, six further people were also detained in Cairo in recent days for promoting “habitual debauchery” through online dating applications and four further arrests took place from a flat in Giza during the same time period.

Cops also arrested one woman suspected of raising the rainbow flag at the concert. She has been charged with “promoting sexual deviancy” and “habitual debauchery”.

On Sept. 23, a day after the Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo, a 19-year-old man was arrested on charges of “debauchery”. He was sentenced last week to six years in prison, followed by six years of probation.

Two other men who were arrested last week are currently detained in Agouza police station in Cairo and are due to stand trial on Oct. 11.

Another two men were arrested on Sept. 28 and are detained in Dokki police station in Cairo. In a further twist, Al Azhar has sided with the government against the country’s LGBTI community.

“Al Azhar will stand against calls for sexual perversion the same way it has stood against extremist groups,” a preacher at the 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Muslim learning said in his Friday prayers sermon.

Meanwhile, Egyptian media outlets have also been banned from discussing LGBTI rights, according to the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR).

“Egyptian media outlets should highlight the hazards of spreading such a phenomenon, the recent promotional campaigns that support the LGBT presence in Egypt tried to categorize the LGBT presence as a kind of human rights, this is not real, as homosexuality contradicts with humanity and religions,” SCMR head, Makram Mohamed Ahmed said in a statement.

Observers claim that the latest crackdown highlights deeply entrenched homophobia within Egyptian society.

“The scale of the latest arrests highlights how dangerously entrenched homophobia is within the country. Instead of stepping up arrests and carrying out anal examinations, the authorities must urgently halt this ruthless crackdown and release all those arrested immediately and unconditionally,” Najia Bounaim added.

The latest wave of arrests represents the worst crackdown on people based on their perceived sexuality since 52 people were arrested following a raid on the Queen Boat nightclub in 2001.

The incident drew widespread international condemnation after around half of those involved were jailed.

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