Screenshot of an August 2018 television segment in which Egyptian anchor Mohamed Al-Ghaity interviewed an unidentified gay guest. Al-Ghaity was sentenced to one year in prison for the interview in January 2019.

© 2018 LTC TV/YouTube

An Egyptian television anchor was unexpectedly sentenced to one year in prison for interviewing a gay man on TV last week. The conviction of Mohamed Al-Ghaity, a host on the satellite channel LTV, reveals the lengths the government will go to shut down discussions on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues. Al-Ghaity is known as a staunch supporter of Egypt’s government and, based on his past anti-gay comments, apparently shares the government’s hostility towards LGBT rights.

During the segment that landed him in jail, Al-Ghaity asked his unidentified gay guest to discuss his experience as a sex worker. Al-Ghaity’s questions and comments seemed designed to paint a negative picture of sexual minorities – portraying homosexuality as “deviance” and a disease and conflating sexual orientation with sex work.

Yet simply for conducting the interview, a court for minor offenses convicted al-Ghaity of contempt of religion, incitement to debauchery, and immorality, sentencing him to one year in prison and a fine, as well as placing him under police probation for an additional year. He is appealing the sentence.

LTC was also suspended by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, a government body that in 2017 issued an order prohibiting the “promotion or dissemination of homosexual slogans.”  The order states that “it is forbidden for homosexuals to appear in any media outlet…except when they acknowledge their wrong conduct and repent for it” and refers to homosexuality as “a pure, great and eternal evil that must be rooted out.”

This order violates the right to freedom of expression, protected in Egypt’s Constitution, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It closes space for LGBT rights advocacy and shuts discussions which could contribute to understanding and acceptance.

Such discussions are badly needed. Bedayaa, a Cairo-based LGBT rights organization, documented 76 arrests for alleged same-sex conduct in 2018 under Egypt’s “debauchery” law. Egypt subjected some victims to forced anal examinations, a discredited method of seeking evidence of same-sex conduct, which can amount to a form of torture.

Al-Ghaity is hardly an ally in the struggle for LGBT equality. But his criminal conviction for hosting a gay man on his show is an affront to basic rights. No journalist should be imprisoned for giving voice to others.