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Human Rights Watch condemned the convictions and harsh sentences handed down today against twenty-three Egyptian men for their alleged sexual orientation.

The Emergency State Security Court for Misdemeanors in Cairo sentenced twenty-two of the defendants to prison terms ranging from one to three years. One defendant facing an additional charge of “contempt for religion” was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. Twenty-nine other defendants were acquitted.

“The government prosecuted these men in an unfair trial, apparently in order to distract public attention from their own unpopular policies, and to placate conservative elements in Egyptian society,” said Joe Stork, Washington director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. Stork urged the Egyptian government to release the men immediately and unconditionally.

All fifty-two defendants were arrested in May this year and charged with “obscene behavior” after being suspected of engaging in consensual homosexual behavior. Two faced an additional charge of expressing “contempt for religion.” They were tried before an exceptional court whose proceedings violate international standards for fair trial. As a result, for instance, they are denied the right to appeal the verdict before a higher tribunal.

Stork condemned the Egyptian government’s increasing use of state security courts and military courts, whose verdicts are more susceptible to government influence.

“The other casualty of this miscarriage of justice is the further undermining of Egypt’s independent judiciary,” Stork said.

During pre-trial detention, some defendants told officials of the Supreme State Security Prosecution that they had been beaten and otherwise tortured in order to force them to confess to alleged homosexual behavior. Prosecution officials did not authorize medical examinations in order to verify their claims. By contrast, the defendants were subjected to forced medical examinations in order to determine whether they had engaged in anal intercourse.

In a related case, a 16-year-old boy who was also arrested in May was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for alleged homosexual behavior. On September 18, 2001, the Juvenile Court in Cairo found him guilty of committing “obscene behavior” and passed down the harshest sentence possible under the law. He was also held incommunicado for two weeks after his arrest and reportedly beaten to force him to make a confession, which was then used as evidence against him in court. His October 31 appeal hearing has been deferred to November 21.

Human Rights Watch said that these convictions and the treatment to which the defendants were subjected violate a number of international human rights instruments to which Egypt is a state party. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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