A recent roundup in Cairo of men suspected of having sex with men, and the continued imprisonment of men already convicted, show that Egypt's crackdown on homosexuals continues unabated, Human Rights Watch said today.
Sixty-two men were reportedly rounded up on August 28 by Cairo police, who used police wagons to block either end of a Nile bridge reputed to be a meeting place for men who have sex with men, then arrested men along the bridge. The men were held for three days in Qasr al-Nil police station in central Cairo where, according to a defense lawyer, they were verbally abused. They were freed on bail after being charged with the "habitual practice of debauchery," the provision under Egypt's penal code used to legitimize arrests for homosexual conduct. The men face up to three years' imprisonment if found guilty at trials now scheduled for October and November.
"These arrests are only the latest in a two-year official campaign against homosexual conduct," said Joe Stork, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "Many of those detained in the past have been tortured in detention." The men targeted by the police face rejection by their families and communities regardless of the prosecution's outcome.
Meanwhile, the police have continued to entrap gay men on "debauchery" charges by soliciting them over the Internet. Human rights activists have documented 15 cases since January 2001 in which men have been arrested after police solicited them over the Internet. Appeals courts have sometimes overturned "debauchery" convictions when based on flimsy evidence or entrapment.
Appeals do not always succeed, even when the evidence is suspect or the defendant was entrapped. Human Rights Watch is concerned by the continuing imprisonment of Wissam Toufic Abyad, a 26-year-old Lebanese citizen arrested on January 16, in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, after he had arranged to meet with a man called "Raoul," whom he had met through a gay personals advertisement site on the Internet.
The Heliopolis Court of Misdemeanors on January 20 sentenced Abyad to 15 months' imprisonment for the "habitual practice of debauchery," for advertising "against public morals," and for "inciting passersby … to commit indecent acts." On February 17, an appeals court upheld his conviction; his case is being appealed to the Court of Cassation, Egypt's highest body of judicial review.
Zaki Saad Zaki Abd al-Malak, 23, also remains imprisoned. Malak was solicited by police over the Internet in January 2002. He told human rights activists that police beat him daily during two weeks of detention in the Agouza Police Station in Cairo. At one meeting with his lawyer, he appeared with dried blood still crusted on his face. On February 7, 2002, Malak was convicted and sentenced to three years' imprisonment, followed by three years' police supervision. The sentence was upheld on appeal. A further appeal is pending before the Court of Cassation.
Also with Malak in Borg al-Arab prison are 12 men arrested in Cairo's Agouza district on August 19, 2002. They were arrested at a party to which they had been invited by a police informer known as "Sherif," nicknamed "Mishmisha" (or "Apricot"). Police broke into the party and took all of the guests into custody. Human Rights Watch knows of a total of 23 men who have been arrested after they were entrapped by "Sherif" in three separate incidents since 2001.
According to the 12 men arrested, police beat them with a baton in the Giza Security Directorate. They were sentenced to three years' imprisonment on November 12, 2002. Their sentences were upheld on appeal in February, and they remain in prison. The prisoners report that they are held in isolation, with extremely limited access to exercise or fresh air. The men are appealing their sentences to the Cassation Court.
"The Egyptian government should free these men and any others who are imprisoned for consensual homosexual conduct," said Stork. "These arrests should end, and the repressive legislation that makes them possible should be amended or repealed."