Young people wave a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert featuring the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila. Activist Ahmed Alaa confirmed that he raised a rainbow flag at the concert in a Buzzfeed video including this image prior to his arrest. 

© 2017 Private

Update: After this dispatch was published, Human Rights Watch learned that Ahmed Alaa was released on bail on the evening of January 21. The case against Alaa for allegedly waving a rainbow flag remains open, although no trial date has been set.

This week Egyptian police arrested 10 people in the latest assault on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the country under the rule of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. But in the face of relentless persecution of sexual and gender minorities in Egypt, world leaders remain largely silent – or worse, praise al-Sisi as a “moderate” leader.

Police arrested the 10 in Alexandria on January 14, accusing them of “debauchery,” the Egyptian authorities’ catchall term for anyone suspected of homosexual conduct or of simply being gay or transgender. According to media, police claimed they received reports of, “weird” men visiting an apartment – apparently reason enough to conduct a raid.

The latest arrests bring to more than 85 the number reported to have been caught up in a massive crackdown on LGBT people since several young people waved a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert in September. Many of those targeted are gay men and transgender women, or men perceived to be effeminate. More than 40 have received prison sentences, with some subjected to forced anal exams, a form of torture. One, Ahmed Alaa, remains in pretrial detention after more than three months, activists say, despite a January 2 court order for his release on bail.

Since al-Sisi took power in 2013, more than 230 people have been prosecuted on “debauchery” charges, according to a November 2017 report from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). The report details horrific police abuse. “They hit our faces and they electrocuted our private parts,” said a trans woman arrested in 2014. A man arrested in 2013 said: “They stripped us and made fun of us and were trying to insert batons in our rear ends.”

With 10 suspected gay and trans people in the hands of Alexandria police, such torture could be happening now. Governments in Europe and North America that provide police and military aid to Egypt maintain a deafening silence about the crackdown, apparently unwilling to offend a partner in the “war on terrorism.” Who will speak up for the victims of Egypt’s state-sponsored homophobia and demand an end to these abuses?