Human Rights Watch urged the Egyptian authorities to conduct a fair review of all sentences handed down in such cases, and to free from prison anyone convicted solely for private, consensual conduct among adults.
"For two years now, the Egyptian authorities have conducted an on-going campaign of harassment against suspected homosexuals," said Joe Stork, Washington director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "The police are raiding private homes and using the Internet to entrap men on trumped-up charges of 'debauchery.' People looking for support and community find a prison cell instead."
On February 17, a Cairo appeals court upheld a penal sentence against Wissam Toufic Abyad, a 26 year-old Lebanese citizen. Police arrested Abyad on January 16 in Cairo's Heliopolis district after he had arranged to meet with "Raoul," whom he had met through the gay personals-advertisements site www.gaydar.com. Undercover police and informants have used the nickname "Raoul" in several other cases to entrap suspected homosexual men.
The Heliopolis Court of Misdemeanors convicted Abyad on January 20 on charges of the "habitual practice of debauchery [fujur]" under Article 9(c) of Law 10/1961 on the Combating of Prostitution, a charge commonly used in Egypt against private, consensual homosexual conduct. The court also convicted him of advertising "against public morals" under Article 178 of the Penal Code; and "inciting passers-by" on a "public road or traveled or frequented place. . . to commit indecent acts [fisq]" under Article 269 of the Penal Code-both referring to his having placed a personals advertisement on the Internet site. These charges are commonly used to criminalize the expression of homosexual identity.
Many recent cases of Internet entrapment of suspected homosexuals have led to convictions in the first instance that were later reversed on appeal. Human Rights Watch is concerned that the appeals court's decision in the Abyad case may signal increasing harshness in the application of the law.
Human Rights Watch is also concerned by the continuing imprisonment of Zaki Saad Zaki Abd al-Malak, a 23-year-old resident of Ismailia who was arrested under similar circumstances over a year ago. In January 2002, after corresponding with a man through an MSN chatroom, Malak came to Cairo. On January 25, at their prearranged meeting place on a street in the Mohandiseen district, Vice Squad officers arrested Malak. He told human rights activists that he was beaten daily by police during two weeks of detention in the Agouza Police Station. At one meeting with his lawyer he still had dried blood crusting his face.
On February 7, 2002, Malak was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, followed by three years' supervision, under the same three charges used against Wissam Abyad. The sentence was upheld on appeal. A further appeal is pending before the Cassation Court, Egypt's highest judicial review body. Meanwhile, Malak is being held in Borg al-Arab prison near Alexandria.
In a separate hearing, scheduled for February 23, 2003, a court of appeals will rule in the case of twelve men sentenced to three years' imprisonment on the charge of "habitual practice of debauchery" in November 2002. All were arrested on August 20, 2002, when police raided what they described as a gay party in an apartment in Cairo's Mohandiseen district. Ten of the men were sentenced for practicing consensual, non-commercial sex with male adults. Although two of the men confessed to having practiced commercial sex, Judge Mohieddin Atrees stressed in his verdict that homosexual conduct--"debauchery"--was a criminal offense even in the absence of financial gain.
In another case, six men were arrested in January 2003 in a private apartment in Port Said and charged with the "habitual practice of debauchery." All six were subjected to forensic medical examinations which found them "used," and were sentenced approximately two weeks ago to six months' imprisonment. An appeals hearing in the case will be held on February 26.
Egypt's most notorious "gay trial," of fifty-two men arrested at the Queen Boat discotheque in May 2001, is also drawing to a close. In November 2001, after a process marked by lurid publicity in the state-controlled press, twenty-three of the men were convicted and given sentences of between one and five years' imprisonment. Their case was heard before an Emergency State Security Court, whose verdicts under Egypt's emergency legislation allow no ordinary appeal. President Hosni Mubarak, who as military governor must review all verdicts of this court, later cancelled innocent and guilty verdicts alike for fifty of the Queen Boat defendants, resulting in a retrial of these cases before an ordinary court. That court has announced it will hand down its decision on March 15.
"This routine of harassment and persecution has gone on far too long," Stork said. "The authorities should halt such arrests and stop the criminalization of consensual private sexual relations."