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III. Scandal and Stigma: The Queen Boat Trials

In the early hours of Friday, May 11, 2001, the Cairo Vice Squad and officers from State Security Investigations (Mabahbith Amn al-Dawla) raided the Queen Boat, a discotheque on a cruise vessel moored in the Nile.42 They detained some three dozen men.

Newspapers told the public a major case was in the offing. They trumpeted the arrest of over fifty adherents of a “devil-worshippers’ organization,” who practiced “perverted activities” and took “pornographic photographs.”43 The Satanists were seized “during their practice of debauchery and while naked in the hall”44; their party was “a marriage ceremony for two male youth, God protect.”45

Over six months, the men’s names made headlines while their faces stared from newsstands. Homosexual conduct drew unprecedented, censorious, and salacious attention. Fifty-two men were tried before an Emergency State Security Court, one boy before a juvenile court. All were charged with the “habitual practice of debauchery,” and nearly half convicted. Most of the men had been tortured in detention. The lives of all were ripped apart.

Human Rights Watch has examined State Security and prosecution files in the case, and interviewed twenty-one defendants, as well as many friends, family members, attorneys, and one judge in the case. Despite charges that the “cult” was caught at the Queen Boat, only thirty of the fifty-three who ultimately went to trial were arrested there. Most of the rest were picked up on the street, through informers, in the days before May 11.46

The lead defendant, Sherif Farhat, was a businessman related by blood and marriage to eminent Egyptians. State Security officers arrested him weeks before the others. A few of his co-workers and acquaintances were also taken in; the rest of the men were strangers to him, trawled in and framed to create the illusion of a homosexual “organization.”

Many of Farhat’s family believe he was the victim of a political vendetta aimed at his relatives. One defendant jailed with him says Farhat, in prison, called the trial “a revenge match between two big families in the country.”47 What is certain is that prosecutors built up a story of a conspiratorial homosexual group around Farhat, using it to discredit him—and fifty-two other men.

The trial’s effects, though, spread beyond Farhat’s wrecked reputation, or his inadvertent co-defendants’ devastated lives. Homosexuality abruptly became visible in Egyptian society and politics, as a vociferously condemned corruption.

The case was far from marking the first or last official move against homosexual behavior. Arrests had long preceded it, and have proceeded since. Yet it loudly admonished public and police that homosexual conduct undermined religion and national security alike. And it advertised to individual officers that crackdowns could further their careers.

A. The First Defendant

Sherif Farhat, thirty-two, was a wealthy engineer and executive from a politically connected family. Relatives told Human Rights Watch he was an amateur photographer with work shown in several exhibitions, and a devout Muslim who had performed the pilgrimageto Mecca.

On April 24, 2001, State Security Investigations officers arrested Farhat. Family members told Human Rights Watch that officers had raided his apartment before his arrest, “and took all the files, all the pictures and books, everything.” After that, they summoned him to State Security headquarters in Lazoghli to retrieve his belongings. “And they never let him go.”48

Farhat is in prison; human rights organizations have not been able to speak to him.49 The only record of what happened to him lies in statements taken down by prosecutors during his interrogations—possibly deliberately distorted in transcription.

These suggest that State Security had observed Farhat for weeks. One prosecutor reports Farhat as saying security officers questioned him first on April 12. He was let go: but first, in an unexplained non-sequitur, he recounted a dream he had had fifteen years before, in which he saw the Prophet Mohammed visited by a blond boy. The Prophet explained the boy was a Kurd, who, after a future Turkish attack, “will escape in the mountains. … Then this boy will emerge and take revenge on the whole world, specifically on Jews, Christians, and Moslems, because they did not try to prevent the Turkish attack on Kurds.” 50

The bizarre prophesy of the “Kurdish boy” became key to the case.

Whatever the motive for their initial concern, the files indicate State Security officers quickly decided Farhat was homosexual. Homosexual conduct became the infraction State Security would use to construct a case. However, fujur, a morals offence, would not justify a State Security prosecution. To preserve their own jurisdiction, investigators identified his desire as the dogma of a blasphemous cult, making him liable for “contempt of heavenly religions” under article 98(f) of the Criminal Code: a security offence.

Next officers set about assembling—victims say, inventing—evidence of the cult. None of the material that State Security officers claimed to find in searching Sherif Farhat’s home was ever produced in court. The only records of its existence are the lists compiled by State Security agents and prosecutors. Allegedly, officers discovered copies of a twenty-nine-page booklet called “Agency of God on Earth: Our religion is the religion of Lot’s people, our prophet and guide is Abu Nawas,” which tied homosexuality to religious ideas.51 Topics in the text included “Our world—why the people of Lot—our Sharia in brief—Homosexual [mithli]chants—Dos and Don’ts.”52

State Security interrogation records show Sherif Farhat confessing that he “set up the Agency of Allah, God of Soldiers,” and that one of his work colleagues, Mahmoud Ahmed Dokla, had built a prayer room at his own home for the Agency.53 Later, through the courtroom cage at one of his trial sessions, Sherif Farhat told a reporter that he had been interrogated for “more than three weeks, blindfolded. I could not see the people who were asking me questions and hitting me. … Electricity, this is the first thing I can tell you, not only to me but to other people.”54

Later in April, State Security arrested Mahmoud Ahmed Dokla, twenty-three.55 At Farhat’s flat, officers also found photographs,56 later numbered at 893.57 Among these were an unspecified number of scenes of “naked men and adolescents [fetyan]”. In some, Farhat allegedly “appears while having sexual perversion; in others he appears alone.” 58

State Security now called on the Cairo Vice Squad for help. In early May, Vice Squad officers located and picked up one man who appeared in the photographs.59 The Vice Squad then began rounding up other suspected homosexuals, to add to the case.

B. “Some Salt in the Dish”: Police Prepare the Case

Bashar, a car mechanic in his mid-twenties, told Human Rights Watch,

I knew Sherif—he used to come to my garage. … One day he came and said, “It’s my birthday and you’re invited.” So I went. There was beer and liquor there. And a bunch of people, mostly men. … There were pictures that were taken when I was drunk. 60

Years passed. On May 2, 2001, Bashar was arrested.

The government took me from my work, from my garage, with the knowledge of someone called Mustafa “Laila Elwi.” He’s an informer. … He drives a cab, a Suzuki Swift, and I fixed it before. Any fujur arrest, they use this type of person to round up people. Anyway, what happened is they showed Mustafa the photos, and he said, “This is Bashar.” They had to beat me to get me in the police van.

Taken to Abdin police station, Bashar was met by the head of the Cairo Vice Squad.

Taha Embaby asked me to go and get people for him as an informer. I didn’t know anyone, I told him. He started beating me. … Taha Embaby keeps this whip in a niche near his desk in Abdin. It was the little finger of my left hand, I still can’t use it. The whip was coming down on my head, I put up my hand to ward it off. The vein broke in the finger and it was pouring blood. …. I have marks of a whip on my skull, two of them.61

He showed me the pictures, and he said, “These are of you.” … He said, “Don’t be scared, you can go home, just go find us khawalat.” … All day for three days I was beaten up in Abdin police station. They beat me for some time every day.

Bashar agreed to inform. He spent almost a week in jail before he was called on to do so. On Wednesday, May 9, the Vice Squad began picking suspected gay men off the street and bringing them to Abdin. Bashar says, “An officer said, ‘We just need some salt so the dish will turn out nice.’”

Bashar told Human Rights Watch about an informer's itineraries. He was sent out in a microbus, together with Mustafa “Laila Elwi,” a Vice Squad officer, and three State Security officers. “I befriended one of them. … He even said, ‘This case has no evidence. And you were caught in it.’”

We started at 7 p.m. or so. We went round and round for an hour. There was nothing. Then we parked in front of the Café l’Americain on the corner of 26th July and Talaat Harb streets. It’s a big cruising area. So I went on the street and a guy I know, Alaa, said, “Hi Bashar.” Suddenly they were on top of him. … And another guy was with Alaa and they pounced on them both. And the other guy was beaten on the street. The officer said, “Do you know him?” I said I didn’t, but they put him in the microbus.

The police got tired. We went back toward Abdin. Mustafa “Laila Elwi” said to the Vice Squad officer, “There’s two more people I know.” They got out and arrested them. They ran after one of them, Hassan [not his real name], and beat him and dragged him to the van... They beat him and tore up his clothes. Then we went back to Abdin.

Hassan, an electronics repairman, was also in his mid-twenties. He told us, “A guy I knew, who was gay, he fingered me. And he is in the case also. His name is Bashar. They beat me. They treated us like dirt.”62

Bashar remembers, “Taha Embaby was interested in kids. He said, ‘I want people from seventeen to twenty.’” Embaby also wanted figures from the photographs. In one picture, Bashar says, “There was somebody I knew called Tamer. And Taha Embaby told me, ‘Bashar, if you bring me this Tamer I’ll let you go, and charge him.’”

We went to a café in Sayyeda Zeinab. We didn’t find Tamer, but we found another guy I knew. I asked him where Tamer was and he said he had his phone number and could call him. He called Tamer and he didn’t answer. So the officer took this guy. 63

Meanwhile, during the days immediately before May 10, some of the same informers were used to arrest people who were taken to a different downtown police station, at Qasr al-Nil. Kamal is illiterate and unsure of his age, but appears to be in his late twenties; he worked as a shoeshiner near Ramsis Station. He told us,

They picked me up while I was sitting on my shoeshine box by Ramsis. It was about 5 p.m. … A lot of people are rounded up that way pretty often. The officer said, “Come, give me your ID.”

I get into this van with some people, I can’t tell you the number, with lots of young guys. There was this bottom with them. She would say to the officer, “This is a khawal.” And that was how they caught me. Her name was Mustafa, Mustafa “Laila Elwi.”

And they drove around and around for a few hours. To Ramsis, Tahrir, and to 26th July, picking up people. Then they took us to Qasr al-Nil station. I didn’t know anything all this time. They made us spend the night in this room in the stairwell. … And at the police station they said, “Are you a khawal?” I said: “No.” The officer said: “This bottom says you are.” And then they beat me.64

Six or seven suspected homosexuals were detained at Qasr al-Nil on that Tuesday and Wednesday. One of them was brought to the Abdin station to check his prior record. There, he met Bashar, who knew him. Bashar saw his interrogation:

Taha Embaby said to this man, “Bring me some bodies and I’ll let you go.” This man said, “I know someone called Wahid [not his real name]; his nickname is ‘Anemia.’ He phoned him that day, Wednesday, from Taha Embaby’s office and arranged a meeting. He said, “I’ll wait for you at the Shobra train station.” He told Wahid there was a possibility of a job. Wahid ran and they caught him. I was along on this one.65

Human Rights Watch spoke to Wahid. Also illiterate, twenty-two years old, he lived in a village near Cairo and worked as a driver. He cried while telling his story.

I had been to the Queen Boat four times before I was arrested. I had made acquaintances with people there, nothing more. On the day of my arrest I got a phone call from someone I had met in the boat. He told me there was a common friend who wanted to meet both of us.

As soon as I got down from the microbus, I was surrounded by five people who started beating me. A police bailiff from Shobra police station stepped in to know why they were doing that. But they told him to go away. So they took me away to a police microbus. When I got inside, there were three other people inside.

These three people were informers. And so was the one who phoned me to meet me. He was on the street to meet me, yes, but they took him also—and he joined me and the three other informers in the van. And the people who beat me were the plainclothes policemen.

Then we went to the Boulaq neighborhood. The informers went and got someone who was sitting in a café. And in Boulaq also they got someone from his home.66

“I knew two guys in Boulaq, I got them,” Bashar said.67

Murad was arrested on the same round. He told Human Rights Watch,

I was picked up at 10 p.m. or so, in 26 July Street. There were a lot of police, in plainclothes, with a police microbus. They just got me, not my friend who was walking with me, and I don’t know why. They were going around, picking up people one by one. The van had an informer in it. He was just helping them pick up gay people in general. There were a lot of people in the van already. I don’t remember how many. In the end we had to sit on each other’s laps. The van drove around until about 2 a.m.

I’m thirty years old. I have a ninth grade education. I live with my mother; my father is dead. I just want to know why they thought I was so dangerous they should do this to me.68

On the day before the Queen Boat raid, State Security officers were also arresting others linked to Farhat. One, Bassam, who worked in a gymnasium in Giza, had given Farhat a massage less than two weeks before. “It was the first time I’d seen him,” Bassam told Human Rights Watch. “He asked me my name, and how long it takes to build muscles like mine. And he left.”

About ten days later an officer came to the gym in the evening. … He said there was an officer of a very high rank in the Dokki station who needed a massage, and he asked if I could come. The receptionist at the gym said, “Go, if we ever need anything from the station this could be useful.” I went with him very innocently. There was a police microbus outside. There was an officer sitting there with sunglasses, they told me this was the officer. … He told me to get in the microbus and we drove off.

They took me to a photo studio in Mohandiseen. They took four people from there. I didn’t understand what was going on. After getting the four, they took us to Agouza. .... They took somebody from there. He was just sitting there fixing his motorcycle on the street.69

The four worked at the studio where Farhat had his photographs developed; State Security had decided they were involved in the case. The man with the motorcycle apparently figured in at least one photograph. Twenty-four when arrested, Yusuf was a car mechanic from a working-class family. He told Human Rights Watch,

The thing with Sherif was just an adventure. That must have been in 1996. At that age you’re adventurous. … I used to compete in bodybuilding matches, back then. I won prizes. And what happened was that I met Sherif because I had this motorcycle. What happened was, he nearly hit me with his car. And when I got off my bike, I was going to hit him but he soothed me, calmed me down, “Oh, you have such a nice body,” and so on. We talked about bodybuilding. He said he was interested in it, that I could get into championships outside Egypt.

Five years later, Yusuf says,

I was arrested from next to my house. “Just one half hour,” they told me as they were taking me, “and you’ll be back.” … They found me because I had this motorcycle. Sherif told me after he hit my bike, “Let me show you my place.” I said, “Come with me to my house first, I need to leave my bike there.” And then years later, he could give the police directions to my house.70

Bassam says, “They took this group of people and we went to the Abdin police station. I had my massage oil and cream and I stood there in the station waiting. …They took out photographs and started looking and comparing us to the photographs. There were people nude and that kind of thing.”

By Thursday night, May 10, the police had almost twenty people detained at Abdin and Qasr al-Nil police stations. Two of the prisoners who knew Sherif Farhat remember that he was brought in to face them. Bashar told Human Rights Watch, “He was completely beaten up, his cheeks swollen. He was blindfolded, his hands cuffed behind him. … They had brought him to Abdin just so that I could identify him, and to be shown to Taha Embaby.”71 And Yusuf says,

I didn’t recognize him. He looked like he had really been worked over. The government does not have mercy on you. If you say good morning, you get hit. There were dark circles under his eyes, his clothes were ragged and torn, his face was bruised and swollen. He told us later he’d been electroshocked.72

Most of the prisoners, however, still did not even know who Sherif Farhat was.

Meanwhile, police planned to multiply those charged with cult membership, through a raid on the Queen Boat itself.

C. “While I was Beaten, Time Stopped”: The Queen Boat Raid

People who were on the boat that night remember minutely the circumstances that led them to the wrong place at the wrong time. Ziyad was twenty-two. He came from a provincial city, had finished college, and was in Cairo looking for work, staying with a friend from the Gulf. He says,

I’ll tell you something strange. That day, I wasn’t planning to go out. I have this sixth sense. I felt if I did, something would happen. I was at my friend’s house. He and I were going to go out. He had a relative there and she asked us not to, really urgently. But no, we wanted to go.

I don’t know what put it in our heads to go to the Queen Boat. We got there around 1 a.m. As we walked toward it I even saw some police cars outside it. But I couldn’t tell that was what they were. They looked like TV vans. And then, what happened, happened.73

Hossein was twenty-three and worked as a deliveryman. Shy and exceptionally polite, he told Human Rights Watch that

It was only my second time at the Queen Boat. … Before this, I was living my life, I was content. I only have a fourth-grade education. I can read and write a little but very badly. … I went to the Queen Boat to dance. I only knew the boat through a friend of mine, Saad. He was arrested there with me. My friend made a date with me on a Thursday, and I went to the Queen, and he introduced me to his friends, and I was really pleased to meet them. They asked me to dance, and I danced. So I enjoyed that night and I went again.

While I was dancing on the dance floor some people started looking at me with strange glances. I went back to the table where I had been sitting, and I insisted on going home. As I was going out this guy met me, and asked for my ID. I took it out for him and gave it to him. He looked at it and pushed me and they forced me to stand to one side.74

Hossein’s friend Saad, a university student, told Human Rights Watch, “Two guys from Abdin police station, maybe more, were sitting in plainclothes in the disco, like regular patrons. So they took me outside. They said, ‘Just half an hour and you’ll be on your way home.’ That half hour lasted a year.”75

Foreigners were usually freed. Amr, a language teacher, was at the discotheque with his English employer. He remembers,

I saw two men checking people’s IDs at the doors of the discotheque. … Men in plainclothes then walked in and started arresting everybody but us because they thought we were foreigners. Then my friend Kevin called me loudly by name to tell me he was going home. It was then that the police heard an Egyptian name and asked me for my ID. I gave it to one man who walked out with it and sent someone to arrest me. When I went out I found three big vans packed with people.76

Faisal, a married man on board the disco, says, “The buses were so full that some of us were put into private cars of people who were on the Queen Boat, who drove them to Abdin police station. There were at least two private cars. The police officers knew the owners, and thanked them, and sent them home. They must have been informers. … Some people who were detained with us knew the car owners. They said they worked with the police and it was not the first time they had helped frame cases.”77

Around forty prisoners arrived at Abdin police station after 2 a.m. They were forced to kneel. One man remembers, “The officer called Taha who was in charge really enjoyed seeing us beaten and afraid.”78 Ziyad says,

This officer who I think was a psycho came over to us. He started shouting abuse at all of us. He said to us, “I want the khawalat to one side and the ordinary people to the other side. “ He was silent for minute. “Of course, you don’t have any normal people, you’re all khawalat.”

Other officers came over and this officer called us out one by one. They looked us over. I was one of the first to be called out. I was well-dressed but he thought my clothes looked “girlish” though I was just wearing a tight T-shirt top, and a jacket, and pants with a little flower stitched on them, around the cuff. They all thought I was effeminate, all through this ordeal, so I was singled out for special attention. After that, he made me take my pants off to see what I was wearing underneath. He seemed to admire my underwear a lot. He told me, “Of course you are a khawal.” I said, of course not. And then he started beating me terribly. …

He used fists and a hose. He beat me on my back with it. Over and over. I’ll never forget that.

Almost in tears, Ziyad added, “You know, it is very difficult to be gay in Egypt.”79

Saad says,

At the beginning they had us all on our knees. And the officer was in front of us; he said, “You are an insult to me.” … Then they started to look at our underpants. They forced people to show their underwear, ripping their pants open. … If you wore colored underwear, it meant you were gay.

Embarrassed and shaking, Saad remembers,

They started saying, “Go on, you khawal! Are you active or passive?” And they’d take each of us and show our underwear to the other officers. Then they’d hit you with the flat of the hand on the back of your neck, or on your back, and say, “Get dressed, khawal.” The officer who did this was Taha Embaby.80

“They hit me really hard on the back of the neck,” Wahba says.81 And Hossein remembers, “We were so humiliated there, I had never had things like that said to me in my life. What they said to us were things that can’t be repeated.”82 One prisoner told Human Rights Watch,

Mohamed al-Mergawi of State Security was sitting on a chair and kept calling names from our ID cards in his hands. After hearing my name I went and got on my knees in front of him. “Are you a khawal?”he asked me. When I said no, I didn’t know where the hits on my back, neck and head came from. The officer unbuttoned my shirt and looked at my chest. “Do you shave the hair of your chest?” I told him I was naturally smooth. The beating didn’t stop during the interrogation.83

Another victim told Human Rights Watch,

They beat us with a hose from a shisha [water pipe] and a baton with a big head. Everyone was beaten. They had our IDs: they’d call your name, and you would go up, and they beat you. I got beaten by the baton and from a hundred hands. I can’t tell for how long. You could feel the time when it flowed, but while I was beaten, time stopped. 84

Bassam, the bodybuilder, says he was spared the abuse:

I watched them getting beaten, but me they didn’t beat. They hit them hard. I saw a lot of people with bloody marks on their backs from the belts. … You know, I have muscles, I look like a man. The guards respected me. All along I was treated quite differently from the others.85

Several prisoners were released from the Abdin police station, including at least nine Gulf Arabs, and Egyptians with influential protectors. Meanwhile, prisoners already picked up in street arrests were still jailed elsewhere in the Abdin station. Some of the informers, including Mustafa “Laila Elwi,” had been freed. Others, including Bashar, remained in the case. Earlier in the day or night, five or six prisoners from the Qasr al-Nil police station had joined them. Kamal, from the Qasr al-Nil group, says, “They took us up to the fifth floor in Abdin. They said, each of you take off your clothes. They made us strip, they checked what was under our clothes. They were beating us to tell if we were khawalat. If we denied it, we were beaten. They hit us hard.”86

Near dawn on May 11, all the men were herded into police wagons again. For the first time, the Queen Boat victims and those arrested on the street met each other. Wahid, picked up in Shobra, says, “We found about thirty people in the wagon. No one understood where the others came from, or where we were going.”87 They were taken to the al-Azbekiya police station, to spend the next day and night. 88

On Friday at al-Azbekiya, they endured a further humiliation. Ziyad says, “In the morning they started calling us by name. Taha Embaby called us out of the cell, saying ‘We need your voices, khawalat, we need your voices, each khawal will come out and say, I am a khawal. And then in half an hour you will go home.’ Now I have nightmares about ‘half an hour’: if anybody says it to me, I say, ‘Make it thirty-five or forty minutes.’”89 Wahid says,

Taha Embaby started calling all of our names. He was a high-ranking officer. Very big and fat and cruel. … He had a tape recorder with him. Everyone was forced to say whether he was passive or active. He said, “I just want to know the number of khawalat, of disgusting perverts, in Egypt. I’m doing a research on this and I need to know in one hour.” This hour lasted for thirteen months. So one by one we went to the tape recorder and said whether we were active or passive. Those who refused were beaten. I said I was both and I was beaten. 90

Hossein says,

We went out of the cell to the officer’s desk. We were very happy, hoping we would leave. We found out it was the opposite. The officer shouted at us and humiliated us, and they beat us, and no one went home. It turned out to have been a game. … He told me to say that I was gay. He actually said the word “gay.” He had the tape recorder on. I said, “What does “gay” mean?” He hit me. “Just pronounce the word I told you to say.” So I said that word. And after that I went out into a room, and there was the rest of the group.91

Ziyad recollects,

My turn came. Taha Embaby said, “Come on, pretty girl.” … I may be hesitating but it hurts me to tell this. It hurts me to remember.

Taha Embaby said: “Look, don't play games.” He had a cassette recorder. “Come on, say you’re a bottom, so we can let you go.” … They beat me again to make me talk. I was crying so hard I couldn’t talk into the mike. It wasn’t Taha Embaby who was doing the beating, it was the two animals with him. Not with a hose, with their fists. I made the recording; I went out the door; I found all the people who had gone out, outside that door.92

Wahba says, “They slapped me in the face. And they also hit me across the back with a shisha hose. There were five or six officers doing this.”93 Saad remembers, “I didn’t want to say whether I was active or passive. The recording, if it exists anywhere, would show that I was being hit.94 Most of the hitting was on the back, with the hand or a cane. They hit me with their hands and fists. … Finally I said I was active.”

The prisoners stayed at al-Azbekiya till the next day. Wahid told Human Rights Watch, “A State Security officer entered the cell. He said, ‘I am not going to fool you, your case is really big, I want you to be strong and be prepared for what is going to happen to you.’”95 The next day they were loaded into a transport vehicle again. Ziyad says,

We didn’t know where we were going, till one of us—a tall, thin guy, Wahid, who we called “Anemia”—stood up in the wagon and said, in a deep voice like death, “This is the way to Amn al-Dawla.” All the girls were terrified and shrieking! What a name! What have we done to deserve State Security? We were completely incredulous—We’ve done nothing, surely! He said again, “This is the road to Amn al-Dawla.” We asked the guards. They said, “You’ll know when you need to.” So we arrived at Amn al-Dawla.96

Wahid says, “We were taken on a long road. That road lasted years for me. It led to the State Security prosecution office in Heliopolis.”97

In a dark cell in the prosecution office, or niyaba, different groups of prisoners began to exchange experiences. “We realized we were a sort of cocktail,” one told us98; another said, “We saw that people from Qasr al-Nil, the Queen Boat and others were added together to make this case.”99 Ziyad says, “In the cell, we heard about a man named Sherif, we heard there were pictures—some of the guys taken from their homes were the guys in the pictures.”

They had brought the photographers [from the studio where Sherif’s pictures were developed]. … One of them broke down and started crying and saying all sorts of things in the cell, that this Sherif was behind it, that he didn’t know what was going on, they were Sherif’s photos; he said, ‘I wish I’d never got a job as a photographer.’ We all began to feel we’d fallen into a disaster: State Security isn’t simple.100

Wahid says, “There was a huge crowd of journalists inside the building and they took our photos. We didn’t understand. We didn’t know they were there to ruin and wreck what was left of our lives.”101

The prisoners were dazed, hungry, sleepless. Believing Vice Squad raids for fujur had swept them up,expecting questions about their sexual conduct, they were astonished when a different topic drove the interrogation. The transcript of Wahid’s questioning is typical. It begins:

Q: Who is the Kurdish boy?
A: I don’t know what this means.

Q: Have you read books on Kurds and their history?

A: No, I can’t read because I am illiterate.102

Prosecutors’ first questions focused on the mysterious cult of Sherif Farhat—whom almost none of the defendants knew. Yet this misled some prisoners into confessing to homosexual conduct. Wahid says,

When I went inside the prosecutor’s office they asked me about my membership in an organization that a person called Sherif had formed. … I talked later to the other prisoners and none of us really knew what the questions were about. They asked me if I had manufactured weapons or airplanes. I told him that I couldn’t read or write. I didn’t know anything about such things. Then they asked me about sexual perversion. I was terrified, I thought this was a lesser charge than the airplanes and the security charges. I confessed to habitually practicing sexual perversion.103

Murad says, “I was so scared that in the end I said, ‘I don’t know anything about contempt of religion, I am just gay.’ I thought contempt of religion was a very serious charge. I didn’t know being gay could be so serious also.”104

Many prisoners were sentenced solely on the basis of these confessions. Some prosecutors, however, did berate the prisoners for being gay. Faisal remembers angrily that “Taha Embaby and the prosecutor were the same. They both insulted and humiliated us in any way you could imagine. I particularly remember, and it makes me angry, the prosecutor asking me if I waxed my chest and arms. I refused to take this way of talking to me, and the result was more insults and humiliation.”105

Some prisoners tried to tell prosecutors about their mistreatment by police. Hossein says, “I told him about the beatings. I don’t know if he wrote it down. I can’t read, so I couldn’t read it anyway. He made me sign a statement. I told him I was illiterate and I didn’t know how to read it. He told me to sign it. I can write my name. My lack of education has caused me a lot of problems.”106

Bashar says, “I told the prosecutor I’d been beaten. I showed him whip marks on my back and on my finger. The prosecutor said to his clerk, ‘Write that the accused came before us wearing a vest’—he rattled off all my clothes—‘and that we found no injuries.’”107

Sherif Farhat was led before all the prisoners, and asked to identify them. Murad says, “He said he didn’t know any of us, except the ‘iron guy’—the bodybuilder—and two others. These included the guy who informed on us, Bashar.”108 Bashar himself says, “At the niyaba, I saw Sherif, cuffed to this man called Mahmoud Dokla. Dokla said to Sherif, ‘Sherif, you’ve ruined me.’ Sherif said, ‘Mahmoud, I’m just like you.’”109

Prosecutors told each prisoner he was charged with contempt of religion. Only when led to the transport vehicle did they find they had been given fifteen days of detention while under investigation. “When we went out,” Wahid says, “we saw a huge security presence all around us. I had never seen anything like it, so many police and soldiers.”110 In the transport vehicle, Ziyad says,

I didn’t know where we were going. To our doom, as it turned out. Wahid, “Anemia,” stood up again and said in that dark voice of his, “This is the road to Tora Prison.” He was really strange, slow-speaking—he walked like a mountain moving. And all of us cried.111

D. Detention and Defamation

“We were received in the filthiest way possible” at Tora Penitentiary, Wahba told Human Rights Watch.112 Ziyad said, “They put us to sleep in this miserable room, more than fifty of us, no blankets, nothing, and mice and insects running over the floor.”113

In the morning, the prisoners were taken out and ordered to strip to their underwear.114 “One guy was stripped completely naked because he was ‘not normal’—he looked like a queen.”115 Their heads were shaved; another prisoner recalls, “The barber was abusive and said we must have all had AIDS and that he was burning his tools after he finished with us lest he infect other prisoners.”116

Muharram says, “Then we were beaten. The policy is not to have the guards beat prisoners, so they can’t be sued, but to have other inmates beat prisoners. Many other prisoners participated in the beating.”117

The prisoners were divided into two cells, for married and single men.118 Bassam’s physique created a category confusion:

The State Security officer took one look at me and saw my muscles, and put me in a room by myself. I stayed there for three days. … I was locked in this room twenty-four hours a day. I had nothing but the blanket I slept on and a bottle of water. There was no bathroom; I was let out in the morning to use it, at 8 a.m., when the others were let out. There was no toilet; I would drink my water and prepare all night to be ready for the bathroom in the morning. That was the first three days, maybe four, I think. … So finally I said, “You have got to put me with other people.” So he returned me to the cell with the married men, and I passed my imprisonment with them.119

In Tora, Faisal remembers, “The door was closed for an entire month. We were isolated in the room. They just opened it to give us food and collect garbage. There was no running water almost all the time: only between about 5 and 6:30 p.m. We used to have fights for the right to use the bathroom and wash clothes. We only had one blanket to sleep on, on the floor. We put our shoes underneath our heads as pillows, and wrapped ourselves in the blanket for warmth.”120 For the first month the prisoners had no visits, letters, packages, or communication with their families. After weeks, the cell doors were allowed open for two hours daily—one hour at the beginning, one hour at the end of the day. Yet the prisoners were never allowed into the open air, only to stand in the corridor.121

Abuse by guards and inmates continued. “If we were being led out to go to the niyaba, for example, the guards would shout, ‘Hello, devil worshipper, khawalat, perverts’ … and sometimes hit us with hands or sticks.”122 Hassan says that as they gradually were permitted contact with the rest of the prison, “Other prisoners would join in playing games with us toward the end. But there were a few who were treated especially badly by everybody—the officers, other prisoners. These were the ones who were obviously gay. … A lot of the other prisoners would beat them.”123

Gradually, families learned the men’s whereabouts—some through the newspapers. Hossein told us,

A friend told my uncle, who was worried about my disappearance, that there was a group of kids arrested for Satanism, in the newspapers. He said, “Look in there, his name might be there.” That was how my family found me: they found my name in the newspaper. So my uncle told my family, and their journey started.124

And while the men waited, the media was seizing on their case. Hassan complained, “The newspaper men since the first day had written the dirtiest and lowest things you could imagine about us, every day. And then at Tora Prison they read these things to us, so we could know what scum we were.”125 Hysteria saturated the press for the next six months. On May 15, the government-owned Al-Masa’, claiming that all the men had confessed at the niyaba to being “Satanists,” listed the full names of fifty-five arrestees.126

On the same day, under the headline “Satanist Pervert Surprises: They Called Themselves God's Soldiers and Practice Group Sex in Private and Public … Meetings Every Thursday at Queen Boat,” the state-owned Al-Gomhoureya gave the full names, ages, professions, and workplaces of thirty of the suspects.127

On May 25, the weekly Rose al-Youssef published excerpts from the “Perverted Organization’s Manifesto.” It warned that the perverts “do not admit the existence of borders and boundaries between the peoples of the earth or the animosities that exist between them, and they look forward to a near future in which everybody is a pervert … so peace and sympathy will rule the earth.”128

Foreign influences were accused and abjured. The state-owned Al-Akhbar spoke of “the globalization of perversion.”129 The independent weekly Al-Ahrar blamed the “Ministry of Interior which made youths too frightened to pray in mosques. … until most parents adopted the slogan ‘Don’t go near the mosque, otherwise you will get arrested.’”130 The independent Sawt al-Umma spoke for a nation “desperate to voice your anger at the sons of the rich who constantly come up with new crimes.”131

Several articles featured photographs of the arrested men, sometimes though not always with eyes blacked out. 132 The state-controlled magazine Al-Musawwar on May 18 featured a three-page story on “Lot’s people”; a photograph, clearly doctored, showed Sherif Farhat wearing an Israeli army helmet, sitting at a desk with an Israeli flag.

Maher Sabry, the flatmate of one of the arrested men, began sending news about the arrests by e-mail, from an anonymous account, to human rights organizations around the world. As those organizations responded, however, press attacks in Egypt crested. In July, Rose al-Youssef launched a broadside:

Amnesty International surprised everybody by its statement defending a group of perverts who were recently accused in Egypt of forming a “Lot Organization.” … What's this nonsense? Why don't they understand the obvious cultural and value differences between them and us? …It seems that Amnesty International, on the occasion of its fortieth anniversary, wanted to present an extremely ridiculous comic show, without making sure that this fantasy is funny to everybody.133

When a group of U. S. legislators condemned the trial, the semi-official Al-Ahram al-Arabi headlined a spread of articles, “Be a Pervert and Uncle Sam Will Approve.”134

The media furor augmented families’ anguish. Ziyad did not try to contact his parents from prison: “I didn’t want them to know because I was so ashamed.” His mother, living in a provincial city, told Human Rights Watch, “We found out when a neighbor told us he had seen the story in the papers. It was several weeks after he was arrested. We were desperate. We went to Cairo two times. We asked people at the courts where the jail was: they only told us, the case is at the High Court.”135 Ziyad says,

My family didn't know where I was for five months or more. I didn’t even have a lawyer until a “staircase lawyer” [Egyptian slang for lawyers who frequent courthouses in search of clients] volunteered to represent me. I talked to the judge myself during the hearings. … I think it was only at the second hearing before the verdict: I was crying in front of my lawyer, saying “I’m afraid my family will find out.”… My lawyer found my mother. He told me how she had been looking for me for months. She hadn’t even known that I was in Tora.136

Ziyad’s mother told Human Rights Watch that when she finally went to Tora Prison, “the guards were brutal. They searched us rudely: they stuck their hands in my dress, put them on my breasts. They called us names: they said, ‘How can you have such a child?’”137

In the al-Azbekiya station, Ziyad had met two older gay men, lovers arrested in the case: “They took care of me inside, all the time.”

They never let me want for anything, because their families sent them things. Whenever I needed anything they never refused. And they respected the reasons why I didn‘t want to talk to my family. …We’d comfort each other. Not a day would pass without my crying myself to sleep. They all felt I was the youngest there, even though there were others who were younger. But I was so alone. It was hard to bear.138

E. Trial and Retrial

All fifty-two defendants continued to be taken before State Security prosecutors, where their detention was regularly renewed. In late June, they were referred to the Forensic Medical Authority for anal examinations. Sixteen were found “used.”

A lawyer who worked on the case says, “The charge [of debauchery] did not come up until the third renewal of their detention. Till then, the charges were all contempt of religion and the creation of a new Satan-worshipping cult.” He adds, “As the investigation went forward, it became clear there was no case for [contempt of religion].” Yet having exposed a specious network, the state could not release the prisoners. “There had to be a case against all of them.”139

All the men were charged with the “habitual practice of debauchery.” Sherif Farhat and Mahmoud Dokla received the additional charge of contempt of religion under article 98(f) of the Criminal Code.

Their trial opened on July 18, before an Emergency State Security Court for Misdemeanors—a procedure allowing appeal only to the Office of the President of the Republic.140 Hordes of media mobbed the small courthouse at Abdin. The prisoners tried to hide their faces behind newspaper pages or plastic bags. According to a reporter, “Several of their relatives screamed, slapped their own cheeks and then beat photographers, while one prisoner had what guards called an epileptic seizure and had to be carted from the room.”141 The session dissolved in chaos.

The case was moved to a larger courthouse to accommodate crowds. One defense lawyer reflects, “The authorities wanted to send a message, that in this trial state interests were at stake and it was a matter of great public concern. … They set the stage and the media came.”142 The pandemonium of press and gawkers disrupted every hearing: officers barred families from the tumultuous sessions, and ushered cameramen in. Ziyad's mother recalls guards jeering at weeping women, “You are the ones who spawned the khawalat,” while reporters inquired “how it felt to have a khawal for a child.”143

Hossein says, “Each session we went to in the court, we got a really hard time. Beatings and abuse, and being photographed by the newspapers. And knowing our families were having a very hard time.”144

Faisal says, “The families asked us to hide our faces so that distant relatives and neighbors wouldn’t recognize us, as soon as they realized there would be so much press around the trial.”145 The accused began wearing masks torn from white prison clothing. Featured in the global press, their hidden faces became a worldwide symbol of the atmosphere of shame. According to one defendant, “In prison, after the first hearing, they took everything but our clothes from us to keep us from covering our faces at the trial: they wanted our faces seen. They’d come into the cell and take handkerchiefs, even tissue paper. We would hide it to keep the guards from discovering it.”146

The verdict was handed down on November 14. Reporters joined mobs of onlookers behind a dense police cordon. Relatives and defense attorneys, both barred from the session, pounded on the courtroom door, while inside, cameramen filmed the masked defendants crowded in the cage. Rashid told us, “The judge was whispering and the officers shouting. It was so humiliating. I didn’t even know what the sentence was until I got back to Tora Prison. We were weeping, all of us, like children, as the truck bumped along the road. The warden was the one who read our sentences to us. I had been found innocent.”147

Ziyad said, “I didn’t hear about it from the judge. … I heard my name, I screamed to speak louder, but I couldn’t hear the sentence. I was devastated, dizzy. When I got back to the prison and they told me for certain, I fainted. My sentence was two years.”148

Twenty-nine defendants were acquitted, twenty-three convicted. Sherif Farhat was convicted of both “debauchery” and “contempt of heavenly religions,” and received five years; Mahmoud Dokla, convicted only of the second charge, received three. The other convicts took two years for the “habitual practice of debauchery” (except for the bodybuilder Bassam, who received one). Each term would be followed by the same period of police supervision. Wahid, one of the convicted, says, “In November they sentenced me to a living death. But I had already been dead for months.”149

Interviewed over a year after the trial, the presiding judge in the case, Mohammed Abdel Karim, stated,

Within the criminal justice system, the guilty verdicts have to be based on certainty, with no room for doubts or suspicion. So for those found guilty, I was absolutely confident of their guilt. The evidence I relied on comprised, first, confessions; second, photographs in which several of the defendants appeared; and third, an important piece of evidence: the forensic medical examination. This found that several people were habitually used. These combined pieces of evidence were the ones that made the court absolutely sure of the convictions. Those not pointed to by one of these three pieces of evidence were acquitted, with the result that more were acquitted than convicted.150

Human Rights Watch’s own analysis of court files in the case suggests, by contrast, that the evidence for conviction rarely amounted to such “certainty,” and the combinations of evidence Abdel Karim cited were almost nonexistent. Thirteen of those convicted had not confessed at the niyaba, and were found guilty based on forensic evidence alone. (One, Bassam, was convicted despite his denials, and despite a forensic finding that he had not been “used”—due to Sherif Farhat’s claim they had had sexual relations once, which should have been insufficient to establish the element of “habituality” or repetition required by the language of the law.)

Forensic evidence, however, was formally weak to the point of irrelevance without more substantial forms of implication to support it. The usual language of the forensic reports stated that the defendant was “habitually used from behind for a long time that is difficult to technically specify exactly,” or that he was “used in sodomy with penetration from a long time which is difficult to specify, which could facilitate his being taken recently without leaving signs to indicate it.” This means that most of the forensic tests, even taken at face value (and chapter VI will demonstrate their medical worthlessness), did not positively conclude the acts had taken place within the three-year limit. Some of the confessions used to convict also fell outside the three-year period. Two defendants (Bashar and Yusuf) who confessed cited only acts five years in the past; another said he practiced homosexual acts seven years before, for one year only; all three denied any homosexual conduct since, and all three were found unused by the forensic exam. Yet all were still convicted on the basis of those confessions alone.

As we pressed him about the three-year interval and how he established habituality, Judge Abdel Karim told Human Rights Watch:

As I said, the evidence has to be based on certainty. But in the criminal system, the pieces of evidence complement one another. So the forensic examination may not be enough in itself to prove guilt. But if it is added to the investigations conducted by the police, and the confession of defendants who implicated one another, it adds up to build the certainty of the court about whether defendants are guilty or no.

Finally, he stated: “To determine the habituality of the act and whether it has happened within three years is completely up to the court, within its sphere of discretion. In this respect it is not subject to supervision even by the Cassation Court.”151

The acquitted were freed to face their devastated families.152 The condemned men continued in Tora Prison. Some family ties broke beneath the shame. Wahba’s wife severed contact when he was found guilty:

Through the six months before the trial, my wife would come visit. She would bring my little daughter—she was six months old when I was jailed. After the trial, her family took her back to her village so she couldn’t visit me…. I waited in prison for my wife for a week, two weeks, three weeks—she didn’t come. I didn’t lose hope in her, because she had promised me she would never abandon me. But she never came.153

International pressure on Egypt’s government grew, however, as new arrests reinforced memories of the men consigned to prison. One year after the raid, the state partially relented. In May 2002 the State Security Office for the Ratification of Verdicts, a Presidential office responsible for reviewing Emergency State Security trials, overturned fifty of the fifty-two verdicts, holding that charges of “habitual practice of debauchery” should not have been heard in a State Security court. The two lead defendants, convicted of “contempt of heavenly religions,” remained jailed; the twenty-one other convicted men were freed. However, prosecutors could seek new trials for all fifty.154

Even for those ordered freed, abuses continued. Trucked to different police stations and—for those from outside Cairo—different cities to check for prior warrants, some were not released for weeks. Hossein says that

I was transferred to Lazoghli [the headquarters of State Security Investigations] in the transport vehicle. And there we were beaten again and humiliated, slapped and kicked, and called khawalat. “Here are the whores, the ones who take it up the ass.” “Come here, pretty girl”—and all these girls’ names. All the officers mocked us. They told us, “You’ll get out of here but if we ever see one of you again, you’ll die.” They let us out and we went back to our families.155

Prosecutors decided to retry the twenty-one convicted men. A new ordeal, before an ordinary Court of Misdemeanors, began on July 2, 2002. 156

Judge Hassan al-Sayes summoned the arresting police for cross-examination, and subpoenaed arrest records from downtown police stations for the five days preceding the raid. Defense attorneys hoped to show that warrants had not been issued, and that charges of collusion in a cult were refuted by the random way people were picked up.157

At hearing after hearing, neither officers nor the records appeared.158 Without ever having heard defense arguments, the judge handed down a verdict on March 15, 2003. Claiming the case echoed “the happenings in the time of the Sodomites and the wrath that fell upon them,” he confirmed the convictions of the twenty-one men previously found guilty--and increased their sentences from one or two years to three, the maximum allowed.159 The judge did not set bail for the defendants pending an appeal, meaning they could be rearrested the moment the prosecution ordered it. No such command came, but many of the terrified men went into hiding.

An appeal hearing was held on June 4. Only four men dared to appear in court and enter the cage to hear the judgment. The judge upheld their convictions but reduced the sentences to one year, effectively to time served. Appeals for the remaining defendants may still take place.

Sherif Farhat and Mahmoud Dokla remain in Tora Prison. Some of the other Queen Boat defendants have left the country, as has Maher Sabry, whose first brave e-mails spread the word of the case to human rights organizations.160 The lives of those still in Egypt are in disarray. Saad, acquitted in the first trial, told us his six months’ imprisonment “was a hole in my life, an empty space. We have no justice in this country.”161 Those convicted faced much harder situations. Wahid, who used to work as a truck driver, wept as he said simply: “After I went out, I realized my life was ruined. Since I got out of prison I’ve found that driving depends on your reputation. Even my uncles who have trucks won’t let me drive.”

I’m twenty-five years old. … I live with my parents still. They are humiliated in our neighborhood and among all those who know them, because everyone read in the papers what they said I was. I can’t read but I know my name has become filth.

Having been sentenced means that my country will never accept me, even when I get out. It means my life is over. Many inside attempted suicide, in our cells. They couldn’t face the life that lay ahead of them, they couldn’t walk that road. Other inmates stopped them. I did not attempt suicide. But I know I could. The sentence still hangs over me. My life is over. I think about suicide all the time.162

After he was released, Wahba tried to find his wife, who had abandoned him when he was convicted. He discovered she had taken his infant daughter and was suing for divorce. “I had no money to give. At every place I tried to get work they wanted the certificate that I had a clean arrest record. And when I went to get my paper, the paper said I had been convicted for fujur. I have eight brothers and sisters and they have turned against me. Even the owner of our building wants to evict me. He says,

My life has stopped. The life I am living is more like hell. I cannot live it. I am also thinking about my daughter. When she grows up, what will they tell her about her father? How will she remember me? As the man who loved her, or the man who stood in a cage?163

Yusuf’s brother told us, “There was too much gossip in the neighborhood. People stared at him, threatened him, tried to beat us up. For the rest of the family it was terrible, also.” The family had to move to a new neighborhood.164

Some remember their persecutors. Saad says, “Taha Embaby makes me angry. I wish I could make him feel how hurt I was, how hurt my family was, how hurt dozens of families and hundreds of people were by what he did.”165

Twenty-four-year-old Ziyad looked back on his two-year ordeal. Shaking visibly, but still unbroken, he summed up:

I used to think being gay was just part of my life and now I know it means dark cells and beatings. It is very, very difficult to be gay in Egypt. …

I don’t sleep at all. If I sleep I would dream about the trial. If I have to go back to prison, I will kill myself. …. What do they want from us? Why do they want our lives?166

42 The boat was named after Nariman, the last queen of Egypt and wife of King Farouk.

43 “The arrest of the members of the devil-worshippers’ organization: The accused got used to holding a marriage ceremony for two men each week,” Al-Ahrar, May 14, 2001.

44 “The return of the devil-worshippers: The arrest of 55 suspects in a shameless party for the engagement of two men,” Al-Wafd, May 13, 2001.

45 “Lost youths,” Al-Wafd, May 14, 2001.

46 To be exact: ten were arrested, either on the streets or on their homes, in the days before May 11 and taken to Abdin police station; seven more, including the adolescent involved in the case, were taken to Qasr al-Nil police station. (These figures do not include men who were arrested but released, sometimes through the intervention of protectors, before the case went to prosecutors or trial.) Three other people were arrested at workplaces or homes after they were identified in Sherif Farhat’s photographs; additionally, three work colleagues of Sherif Farhat, including Mahmoud Dokla, were arrested at their homes.

47 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

48 Human Rights Watch interview with members of Sherif Farhat’s family who asked to remain anonymous, Cairo, Egypt, March 6, 2003. See also Sherif Farrag, “Will the real Sherif Farhat please stand up? The main defendant in the Queen Boat trial risks losing more than his liberty,” Cairo Times, November 1-7, 2001. Farhat’s family believe State Security may have first accused Farhat of links to Islamist movements, links they deny. They suggest Farhat confessed to homosexual conduct to cast doubt on those charges. Comparable statements were made by Farhat’s attorneys during the trial; see Sherif Farrag, “Allegations of systematic beatings among the Queen Boat defendants have international organizations watching even closer,” Cairo Times, September 13-19, 2001.

49 The Egyptian Ministry of the Interior did not respond to a written request by Human Rights Watch to visit Sherif Farhat in prison.

50 Prosecution interrogation sheet for Sherif Farhat, State Security prosecutor Sameh Seif, dated May 12, 2001, 10 p.m., in court file of case no. 182/2001, Qasr al-Nil Emergency State Security Court of Misdemeanors, on file at Human Rights Watch.

51 “People of Lot,” a phrase for men who have sexual relations with men, refers to the Quranic version of the Lot story. The Abbasid-era poet Abu Nawas wrote poems celebrating love between men.

52 “Viewing report” by State Security Prosecutor Sameh Seif, on evidence seized at Sherif Farhat’s residence, dated May 15, 2001, 5:30 p.m. The booklet allegedly claimed “that sex can make people love each other more than any thing,” and urged that “Homosexuality is a human right, and not an offence that angers God, because it does not leave any harm.” In addition to misogynistic warnings, “Dos and Don’ts” stated “Satisfy your partner so that he doesn’t leave you,” and “Do not harm others.” Other items reportedly seized included “a necklace with the Star of David inside a small yellow envelope,” “several drawings of the Star of David inside a big yellow envelope,” and “numerous Islamic, Christian, and Jewish books.”

53 Investigations report by State Security Captain Mohammed Abdel Muneim, dated April 24, 2001, 9:00 p.m.

54 “Gays Tortured in Cairo Cells,” SAPA-AFP, 6 September 2001. Family members told Human Rights Watch that Farhat had told them he was blindfolded for two weeks, but “When we open the subject [of torture and electroshock] during visits, he refuses to speak: he wouldn’t want his mother to know about the tortures.” Human Rights Watch interview with family members of Sherif Farhat who asked to remain anonymous, March 6, 2003. When he was ultimately interrogated by a State Security prosecutor on May 12, the official record shows Sherif confessing to homosexual acts but denying authorship of the booklet. He said the Agency of God was a charity organization he founded after a 1998 car accident: “It has nothing to do with any new religion.” Interrogation report, State Security Prosecutor Sameh Seif, dated May 12, 2001, 10:00 p.m. In an “interview” with a reporter through the bars of his courtroom cage later in the year, Farhat allegedly explained the booklet by saying, “They [State Security agents] found my diary and said, tell us about your life and vision, and the agency, even though it was merely some random thoughts.” Quoted in “I trust that God will help me through this, as he did the Muslims at Badr,” Sawt al-Umma, August 22, 2001.

55 They allegedly found “a praying room with the phrase ‘Agency of Allah’” on the roof of his building. Investigations report by State Security Officer Khaled Abul-Kheir, dated April 26, 2001, 3:30 a.m. Dokla’s father, interrogated by State Security officials, said, “There was no praying room, we just built a wall to make a balcony on the roof.” Interrogation report by State Security Prosecutor Amr Farouk, dated May 22, 2001, 3:00 p.m. Dokla, convicted of “contempt of religion,” also remains in prison; Ministry of Interior officials did not respond to a written request by Human Rights Watch to visit him there.

56 Investigations report by State Security Captain Mohammed Abdel Muneim, dated April 24, 2001, 9:00 p.m.

57 “Viewing report” by State Security Prosecutor Sameh Seif, on evidence seized at Sherif Farhat’s residence, dated May 15, 2001, 5:30 p.m.

58 “Viewing report” by State Security Prosecutor Sameh Seif, on evidence seized at Sherif Farhat’s residence, dated May 15, 2001, 5:30 p.m. Human Rights Watch opposes and condemns all forms of sexual exploitation of children, heterosexual or homosexual, including child pornography. It is important to note, however, that the pictures allegedly showing “adolescents” were never produced in court, nor was any evidence introduced regarding the ages of the people depicted or the content of those pictures.

59 The interrogation records (in the “viewing report” by State Security Prosecutor Sameh Seif, dated May 15, 2001) claim that Sherif Farhat had given names of two of the figures in the photos. As described below, however, the first of the two men to be picked up believed State Security actually handed the photos to the Vice Squad, who identified him through their own informers.

60 Human Rights Watch interview with Bashar (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, February 26, 2003. Bashar is unsure of the date when he met Sherif: he told Human Rights Watch that “at least three years” passed between that incident and his arrest, but stated to prosecutors in 2001 that it happened “in 1996”: interrogation report by State Security Prosecutor Ahmed Khairi, May 23, 2001, 12:20 p.m. In either case, the three-year statute of limitations for the misdemeanor had expired, meaning that neither Bashar nor Sherif Farhat should have been prosecuted for the act.

61 Human Rights Watch observed these marks.

62 Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, February 25, 2003.

63 Human Rights Watch interview with Bashar, Cairo, Egypt, February 26, 2003.

64 Human Rights Watch interview with Kamal (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, March 4, 2003.

65 Human Rights Watch interview with Bashar, Cairo, Egypt, February 26, 2003.

66 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahid (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

67 Human Rights Watch interview with Bashar, Cairo, Egypt, February 26, 2003.

68 Human Rights Watch interview with Murad (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, February 25, 2003.

69 Human Rights Watch interview with Bassam, Cairo, Egypt, February 26, 2003.

70 Human Rights Watch interview with Yusuf (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, March 7, 2003. The State Security prosecution interrogation report on Yusuf (by prosecutor Mohammed al-Faisal, dated May 12, 2001, 8:45 p.m.) shows he stated his sexual relations with Sherif Farhat had happened “about six years ago.” This places them well outside the statute of limitations for misdemeanors, meaning that neither he nor Sherif Farhat should have been subject to prosecution for those acts.

71 Human Rights Watch interview with Bashar, Cairo, Egypt, February 26, 2003.

72 Human Rights Watch interview with Yusuf, Cairo, Egypt, March 7, 2003. In a later prosecution interrogation, Farhat is recorded as stating that he was subjected to psychological pressure even after the Queen Boat arrests on May 11. “At the investigations, they asked me to say that I know that I know the people who were arrested on the Nariman boat in order to be let go. And they threatened me and my mother, my father, and my brother.” Interrogation report by State Security Prosecutor Sameh Seif, dated May 24, 2001, 12:00 p.m. Bassam, the masseur, remembers that in prison Farhat said, “Because of the beatings and the electricity I told them things, just to get them to stop.” Human Rights Watch interview with Bassam, Cairo, Egypt, February 26, 2003.

73 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad (not his real name), Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

74 Human Rights Watch interview with Hossein (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, March 4, 2003.

75 Human Rights Watch interview with Saad (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, March 2, 2003.

76 Human Rights Watch interview with Amr (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, August 15, 2002.

77 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

78 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahba (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, March 3, 2003.

79 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

80 Human Rights Watch interview with Saad, Cairo, Egypt, March 2, 2003.

81 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahba, Cairo, Egypt, March 3, 2003.

82 Human Rights Watch interview with Hossein, Cairo, Egypt, March 4, 2003.

83 Human Rights Watch interview with Nureddin (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, August 14, 2002. Other interviewees confirmed Mohammed al-Mergawi’s participation in beatings.

84 Human Rights Watch interview with Muharram (not his real name), Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

85 Human Rights Watch interview with Bassam, Cairo, Egypt, February 26, 2003.

86 Human Rights Watch interview with Kamal, Cairo, Egypt, March 4, 2003.

87 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahid, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

88 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

89 Ibid.

90 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahid, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

91 Human Rights Watch interview with Hossein, Cairo, Egypt, March 4, 2003.

92 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

93 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahba, Cairo, Egypt, March 3, 2003.

94 The recording was never introduced at the trial.

95 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahid, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

96 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

97 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahid, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

98 Human Rights Watch interview with Yusuf, Cairo, Egypt, March 7, 2003.

99 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahba,, Cairo, Egypt, March 3, 2003.

100 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003. The four prisoners from the photographer’s studio were never charged in the case; most defendants remember that they were freed after the first niyaba interrogation, though Saad states that “the owner of the store and the one who printed the pictures were held longer.” Human Rights Watch interview with Saad, Cairo, Egypt, March 2, 2003. In addition, two professional colleagues of Sherif Farhat, who had taken a training program under him at his company, were arrested in the early hours of May 15, and brought into the case at the niyaba. They were among the fifty-two ultimately tried, but were acquitted.

101 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahid, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

102 Prosecution report by State Security prosecutor Mohammed el-Dourri, dated May 12, 5:30 PM. Similarly, Muharram, seized on the Queen Boat forty hours before, found himself asked:

Q: What do you know about Kurds?
A: I don’t know anything about them.

Q: Have you ever had any visions?
A: No.

Prosecution report by State Security prosecutor Amr Farouk, dated May 12, 2001, 8:30 p.m.

103 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahid, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

104 Human Rights Watch interview with Murad, Cairo, Egypt, February 25, 2003.

105 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

106 Human Rights Watch interview with Hossein, Cairo, Egypt, March 4, 2003.

107 Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmed, Cairo, Egypt, February 16, 2003. Hossein’s interrogation report (State Security prosecutor Khaled el-Shulqami, dated May 12, 2001, 4:00 p.m.) and Bashar’s (State Security prosecutor Ahmed Khairi, May 12, 6 p.m.) do not record any injuries or allegations of mistreatment. A few prosecutors did indeed record allegations or physical evidence of beatings. In no case did these result in referral to a forensic medical doctor for evaluation or treatment.

108 Human Rights Watch interview with Murad, Cairo, Egypt, February 25, 2003.

109 Human Rights Watch interview with Bashar, Cairo, Egypt, February 26, 2003.

110 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahid, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

111 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

112 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahba, Cairo, Egypt, March 3, 2003.

113 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

114 “One person, the poor guy, had thrown away his underwear in al-Azbekiya,” Ziyad told us. “He thought it incriminated him.” Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

115 Human Rights Watch interview with Muharram, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

116 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal, Cairo, Egypt, August 18, 2003.

117 Human Rights Watch interview with Muharram, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

118 Christians were put with the married men. Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

119 Human Rights Watch interview with Bassam, Cairo, Egypt, February 26, 2003.

120 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

121 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahid, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

122 Human Rights Watch interview with Saad, Cairo, Egypt, March 2, 2003.

123 Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan, Cairo, Egypt, February 25, 2003.

124 Human Rights Watch interview with Hossein, Cairo, Egypt, March 4, 2003.

125 Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan, Cairo, Egypt, February 25, 2003. (A compilation of Queen Boat-related articles from an Egyptian clipping service, by no means comprehensive, runs to 190 pages.)

126 “Confessions of the 'Satanists' in 10 Hours: We imported the perverse ideas from a European group,” Al-Masa’, May 15. Fifty-two men were eventually referred to an Emergency State Security Court for trial, and a child involved in the case (see below) was tried separately. The Al-Masa’ roster included two people whose case was never sent to court, probably two of the photographic studio employees. Later, the full names, ages, professions, and workplaces of all 52 defendants appeared in Al-Ahram and Al-Gomhoureya on June 29. Article 23 of Egypt’s Press Law (Law 96 of 1996) forbids media from publishing information that can affect the outcome of an investigation or trial.

127 “Satanist Pervert Surprises,” Al-Gomhoureya, May 15, 2001. The article also detailed a visit to the family of Sherif Farhat, giving their full address and claiming his father “was broken by his son’s crime.”

128 Islam Kamal, “Rose al-Youssef obtained a copy: The Complete Text of the Perverted Organization's Manifesto,” Rose al-Youssef, May 25, 2001. Rose al-Youssef is widely believed to have close ties to State Security: see Andrew Hammond, “Looking through rose-colored glasses,” Cairo Times, October 2, 1997.

129 “An Egyptian View,” Al-Akhbar, May 30, 2001.

130 “Devil worshippers, the loss of morals, and who is responsible?” Al-Ahrar, May 24, 2001.

131 “Dr. Khalil Fadel tries to read between the lines,” Sawt al-Umma, May 24, 2001.

132 See, for example, ”The Return of the Devil Worshippers,” Al-Wafd, May 13, 2001.

133 “Special Report: How Could Anyone Believe them After this Ridiculous Statement? They're Defending Egyptian Perverts Under the Pretext of “Human Rights”!” Rose al-Youssef, July 15, 2001.

134 “Washington uses the aid card, and Europe offers a grape leaf: The homosexual sodomy-revolution,” Al-Ahram al-Arabi, August 25, 2001.

135 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad’s mother, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

136 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

137 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad’s mother, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

138 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003. Prisoners receive little food or other amenities in Egyptian pre-trial detention, and often survive prolonged detention only through food, clothing, medicine, exchangeable goods, or money they receive from their families. Prisoners whom stigma restrains from contacting their families—or whose families reject them due to the nature of the “crime”—are thus especially vulnerable and endangered.

139 Human Rights Watch interview with Taher Abul-Nasr, Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Cairo, Egypt, March 2, 2003. Some defendants support his speculation: “It was only at the third session that [prosecutors] started asking me about gay stuff,” Rashid reports. Human Rights Watch interview with Rashid, Cairo, Egypt, March 4, 2003.

140 The Emergency State Security Courts are exceptional courts created in accordance with Law 162/1958, known as the “Emergency Law,” legislation which has repeatedly been renewed by the government to maintain a state of emergency in force since 1980. (See Human Rights Watch press release, “Egypt: Emergency Without End,” February 25, 2003, at Under the Emergency Law, the Security Law as amended by Law No. 103 of 1983, and Presidential Decree No. 1 of 1981, Emergency State Security Courts have power to try security-related crimes, including Criminal Code offences deemed prejudicial to the security of the state—”contempt of religion” (article 98(f)) among them. The Emergency Law allows no appeal to a higher tribunal from an Emergency State Security Court. However, their verdicts (even not-guilty verdicts) are not considered final until ratified by the president of the republic, who may uphold or quash the ruling, or order a retrial.

141 Neil MacFarquhar, “Egypt tries 52 men suspected of being gay,” New York Times, July 19, 2001.

142 Human Rights Watch interview with Taher Abul-Nasr, Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Cairo, Egypt, March 2, 2003. A fifty-third defendant was also accused of belonging to the Queen Boat “cult” but was tried separately. A seventeen-year-old boy had been arrested in the police sweeps to fill out the case, he was apparently part of the Qasr al-Nil component of the “cocktail” of detainees. Although the arrest report in his case file claims he was picked up on May 10, his interrogation sheet shows him telling prosecutors that “About five days ago I was going back from visiting my sister; I got off in Ramsis to take transportation from there, when police arrested me on suspicion. They took me to Qasr al-Nil police station where they took my fingerprints and filled a suspicion form and sent me to the morality department at Abdin, and then I was transferred to the al-Azbekiya police station, to the juveniles detention, and from there … I came here.” He stated his arrest took place on May 7. He confessed at the niyaba to having “practiced sexual perversion twice against my will” but denied this in a later niyaba hearing, saying he had confessed because he was afraid, and that police had threatened him.

Rather than being referred to the State Security Court, his case was sent to the Cairo Juveniles court (case 2041/2001). Before the verdict, however, he was held for four months at Mazra’at Tora with adult detainees. At his trial, the boy claimed that he had been subjected to physical torture to elicit a confession, including beating with a falaqa or cane on the soles of his feet. The judge did not order an investigation into these allegations.

On September 18, the boy was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for the “habitual practice of debauchery” (to be followed by three years’ police supervision) on the basis of his confession, his forensic report having found no traces that he was “used.” The judge discounted claims of torture, stating that it was the prerogative of the court to evaluate the validity of a confession and that “The defendant had … confessed in detail, and of his own free will, to the practice of debauchery, under no pressure or coercion.” The boy “screamed and sobbed” when the verdict was announced, according to Maher Sabry, who was present. (E-mail communication from Maher Sabry, September 18, 2001.) On the following day, the state daily Al-Goumhoreya published the boy’s photograph, taken at the trial.

Since his trial was not heard before an Emergency State Security Court, he could appeal. (He was transferred to a juvenile penitentiary pending the appeal). In covering his appeals hearings, Al-Goumhoreya again photographed him in court and published the picture. On December 19, an appeals court upheld his conviction but reduced his sentence to six month’s imprisonment (that is, time served) and six months’ police supervision. He was freed, but still required to spend each night at a police station for six months.

An attorney who defended him on appeal told Human Rights Watch that after his release, “The child was stigmatized and so was his family because of the case. They were harassed and mistreated in the neighborhood. The family had to leave.” Human Rights Watch interview with Taher Abul-Nasr, Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Cairo, Egypt, March 2, 2003. See also Human Rights Watch letter to Counsellor Maher ‘Abd al-Wahid, Prosecutor General, “Egypt: Overturn Boy’s Conviction for Homosexuality,” November 19, 2001, at

143 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad's mother, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

144 Human Rights Watch interview with Hossein, Cairo, Egypt, March 4, 2003. The “United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners” state in article 45(1) that when “prisoners are being removed to or from an institution, they shall be exposed to public view as little as possible, and proper safeguards shall be adopted to protect them from insult, curiosity and publicity in any form.” U.N. Doc. A/CONF/611, annex I, E.S.C. res. 663C, 24 U.N. ESCOR Supp. (No. 1) at 11, U.N. Doc E/3048 (1957), amended E.S.C. res. 2076, 62 U.N. ESCOR Supp. (No. 1) at 35, U.N. Doc E/5988 (1977).

145 Human Rights Watch interview with Faisal, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

146 Human Rights Watch interview with Muharram, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

147 Ibid.

148 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

149 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahid, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

150 Human Rights Watch interview with Judge Mohammed Abdel Karim, Cairo, Egypt, March 11, 2003.

151 Ibid.

152 The process of shipping the acquitted men through different police precincts in Cairo to check for outstanding arrest warrants, however, extended their detention by days or weeks. Some paid bribes to be freed expeditiously. Bashar told Human Rights Watch, “The day I was acquitted, my mother borrowed 500 pounds [over US$100 at the time] to get me out.” Human Rights Watch interview with Bashar, Cairo, Egypt, February 26, 2003.

153 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahba, Cairo, Egypt, March 3, 2003.

154 The prospect of leniency excited indignation in the press. Al-Osboa warned, “Sources say that it is important to create new laws for the crime of homosexuality, equal to the atrocity of the crime and the danger it poses to society … especially because governments have accepted such behavior in their countries, and other organizations defend gays on the basis of human rights—and to fight back possible U.N. resolutions that may force their protection.” “After resending the case to the prosecutor: The case of homosexuals is driven into forgetfulness,” Al-Osboa, May 27, 2002. Judge Mohammed Abdel Karim, from the first trial, told Human Rights Watch that “I believe the verdicts were not thrown out on legal grounds, but as a result of political pressure and the human rights campaign for these people. The president gave in by referring these cases to an ordinary criminal court.” Human Rights Watch interview with Judge Mohammed Abdel Karim, Cairo, Egypt, March 11, 2003.

155 Ibid. Bassam’s one-year term had ended a few days before the release order, and he was about to be freed. He was also sent through the round of police stations, as well as to State Security headquarters in Cairo. There, he says,

They said: “We know you had sex with men, you are a khawal.” They kept me for a week in a cell with people who were extremists and sheikhs. It was underground; when I was taken upstairs, I was blindfolded. … One day they took me upstairs and talked to me. That was when they insulted me. The officer said, “This kid looks good, he has blond hair and green eyes: and he could tempt someone who wanted to do this with him.” But he also said, “You look like someone who cares for his physique; you wouldn’t let someone do that to you.”

Bassam was then sent to Sayyeda Zeinab police station. Although the presidential order clearly mandated the suspension of all sentences, authorities continued to impose the one-year term of police supervision on Bassam, meaning that, free during the day, he had to sleep in the police station from 6 p.m. till 6 a.m., “under the staircase,” he remembers, “by the toilet.” Only five months later, after the payment of bribes and the threat of a lawsuit, was Bassam freed from police supervision. Human Rights Watch interview with Bassam and his lawyer, who requested not to be named, Cairo, Egypt, February 26, 2003.

156 Mohammed Abdel Karim, the judge in the first trial, who had refused motions to transfer the case to an ordinary court, was assigned to rehear it when it reopened there. Abdel Karim recused himself after defense objections, however, and was replaced.

157 No valid warrant exists in the case files for any of the arrests made; none of the defendants whom Human Rights Watch interviewed reported having seen one. Sherif Farhat’s case file contains an “investigation report” by State Security officer Mohammed Abdel Muneim, and dated April 22; such investigation reports are usually used to justify the request for a warrant to a prosecutor. However, this report bears clear signs of having been faked. It lists, as among Farhat’s “fellows” who hold “immoral parties” on “the touristic boat Nariman Queen,” all the other fifty-one defendants eventually charged in the case--as well as the four men seized at the photo studio. Such a report could hardly have been written on April 22, as police had no idea then whom they would arrest at the Queen Boat, or on the street in the coming weeks.

158 See “Postponed Again,” Cairo Times, October 17-23, 2002.

159 Verdict by Judge Hassan al-Sayes in case no. 5375/2001, Qasr al-Nil Court of Misdemeanors, March 15, 2003, on file at Human Rights Watch. The twenty-nine previously acquitted also saw those verdicts confirmed.

160 Sabry noticed he was under surveillance within weeks of the Queen Boat arrests; his e-mail account was hacked. He chose to give interviews to foreign television reporters on the final day of the first trial, using his own name; after that, he felt, his situation in Egypt became untenable, as he confronted the constant possibility of arrest. E-mail communication to Scott Long, Human Rights Watch, from Maher Sabry, April 1, 2003.

161 Human Rights Watch interview with Saad, Cairo, Egypt, March 2, 2003.

162 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahid, Cairo, Egypt, February 21, 2003.

163 Human Rights Watch interview with Wahba, Cairo, Egypt, March 3, 2003.

164 Human Rights Watch interview with Yusuf’s brother, Cairo, Egypt, March 7, 2003.

165 Human Rights Watch interview with Saad, Cairo, Egypt, March 2, 2003.

166 Human Rights Watch interview with Ziyad, Alexandria, Egypt, February 28, 2003.

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March 2004