At least 150 people in the past 18 months were arrested in Egypt charged with practicing ‘debauchery’, according to a statement Saturday from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
In response to a high-profile raid on a bath house in downtown Cairo, EIPR criticised the latest crackdown on homosexuals and called for fair treatment of the 26 detainees. The group also criticised the motives and legality of the televised sting.
In the first week of December, media personality Mona Iraqi and a film crew accompanied a police unit’s raid on a suspected “gay bath house orgy”. Detainees were filmed naked as they were led out of the bath house, covering their faces to the cameras. The apprehended are charged with collectively “practicing, facilitating and inciting debauchery”. Those accused of running the bath house could face up to nine years in prison, while the remaining defendants could face up to four years.
The EIPR statement called the events a “blatant violation of privacy” owing to the presence of the film crew, and a denial of due process of investigation as the men were publicly portrayed as guilty. They individuals have also been denied the constitutional right of contact with family and proper legal representation, with lawyers so far unable to access court papers.
The rights group continues that it is part of an “organised security campaign launched by the vice police against homosexuals or those whose sexuality is not socially acceptable, assisted by a number of media platforms”.
While homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, gay and transgender people are often arrested on charges of ‘fujur’ (debauchery). Article 9 of the 1961 Anti-Prostitution Law punishes those guilty of “inciting debauchery and immorality” with three to five years of imprisonment. The rights group, however, has identified cases where detainees have been sentenced to up to nine years in prison.
No official inventory of sentences exists but the EIPR believes that at least 150 people have been arrested on debauchery charges since the July 2013 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Cases have been reported in Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, Ismailia, and the Red Sea.
Some commentators have argued that the government’s clampdown on homosexual activities is a political strategy to lay claim to moral authority and upholding religion, and to de-legitimise the Islamist movement. Rights campaigners, such as Scott Long who broke the bath house story, say the environment is more hostile to homosexuality now than under Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Morsi.
In November, Qasr Al-Nil Misdemeanour Court sentenced eight men to three years in prison following a YouTube video of an alleged gay marriage on a Nile boat. The defendants were charged with “debauchery” and “violating public decency”. A case which Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the latest instance of the “persecution” of those “suspected of homosexual conduct”.
EIPR also condemned the alleged security practices that Egyptian police have recently adopted. It has been widely reported that Egyptian police have begun creating fake social media accounts to entrap and arrest homosexual men. It has also been reported they have been “detain[ing] people for the way they walk or dress in public”, and violently beating accused.
Rights groups also hold that detainees often face severe forms of “investigation” including anal examination for alleged homosexual behaviour, which HRW state “violates international standards against torture”.
The current bath house arrests are the largest since 2001, when 52 men were arrested after the police raided a Nile boat in what became known as the Queen Boat Trials. It was alleged that men were engaging in a “gay sex party”, with 23 of the defendants sentenced to prison for “immoral behaviour and contempt of religion.”