When Seif Bedour, 21, returned to Egypt this year to visit his family after years studying abroad, he did not expect to end up behind bars. His “crime”? “Suspicion” about his sexual orientation.
Bedour was looking forward to his graduation. Now, he looks forward to seeing his family only when prison authorities allow.
Police arrested Bedour in late August, when he accompanied a friend who had been arrested by the police as part of their investigation into a party in 2014 at Cairo’s Fairmont Hotel. A woman at that party recently reported she was drugged and raped by several men in a hotel room on the same night.
Bedour, who was only 14 and not present when the Fairmont incident took place, had voluntarily accompanied a witness, a woman friend, to the police station after police arrested her from her home at dawn. “He didn’t want her to be alone in a difficult situation,” according to his family.
Also at the police station was Ahmed al-Ganzoury, 40, who was initially summoned by police because he was an organizer of the Fairmont party.
At the station, police unlawfully searched Bedour’s and al-Ganzoury’s phones and, based on private photos they found, detained them for allegedly engaging in same-sex conduct.
They remain in jail more than two months later, after judges renewed their pretrial detention three times in hearings they were not allowed to attend.
Authorities kept them for several weeks in a police station in east Cairo, permitting only one family visit. On October 14, they were transferred to al-Nahda prison, where they are currently detained in the same cell as the suspected Fairmont rapists.
According to the men’s families, prison guards forcibly shaved their heads, and prosecutors ordered them to undergo drug testing and forced anal exams, a form of torture and sexual assault under international human rights law, which Egyptian authorities routinely carry out to seek “proof” of same-sex conduct.
Government-affiliated media appear to have reframed the alleged gang rape as a “group sex party” and claimed that security forces had broken up “the biggest homosexual network.”
Egyptian authorities are sending a disturbing message that persons who voluntarily go to a police station to assist others may be arrested for their alleged sexual orientation. Prosecutors should immediately drop all charges and investigations concerning the sexual orientation and private life of Bedour and al-Ganzoury and release them.