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Thursday, 13 August 2020

Crackdown on gays continues as bathhouse trial opens

The 26 defendants were arrested in a police raid on Cairo bathhouse and charged with 'debauchery'

Mariam Rizk , Sunday 21 Dec 2014
Eight Egyptian men convicted for "inciting debauchery" following their appearance in a video of an a
In this Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014 file photo, Eight Egyptian men convicted for "inciting debauchery" following their appearance in a video of an alleged same-sex wedding party on a Nile boat leave the defendant's cage in a courtroom in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)
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Views: 3264

“Do not be afraid my son, you are a man!” shouted the relative of one of the defendants charged with homosexuality as she was pushed out of the courtroom in which more than two dozen men were standing trial.

The first session of the trial on Sunday came only two weeks after 26 men were arrested in a Cairo bathhouse in a police raid.

During the session, the court adjourned the case to 4 January, with the defendants remaining in detention.

Last week, forensics said that three suspects were found to be victims of sexual assault, while medical tests could not conclude whether the other suspects were engaged in "homosexual acts" or not.

As defendants were dragged into the courtroom handcuffed to each other, some of them tried to hide their faces, while a relative yelled “there is nothing wrong with these men.”

Although homosexuality is not technically illegal in Egypt, those suspected of homosexual acts are often charged under a law that prohibits “debauchery” and indecent public acts.

The case has provoked widespread outrage on social media after television presenter Mona Iraqi broke details of the raid on her Facebook account, highlighting her role in providing the police with details about “a den of group homosexuality.”

Pictures of half-naked men being herded into police trucks outside the Ramsis bathhouse went viral, including one showing Iraqi in the background, filming the men as they were led away.

Iraqi went on to devote several episodes of her investigative current affairs programme El-Mestakhabi (The Hidden) to the raid, and has since faced accusations that she has violated media codes of ethics in her reporting.

Homosexuality remains highly taboo in Egypt, and the defendants, some of them middle aged men, shouted from inside the cramped iron cage to journalists in order not to be filmed. 

“This kind of cases taints the whole family,” the brother of one of the defendants said. “We cannot say where my brother is and why he is arrested…this is against our traditions and values.”

The brother, who plans to file a case against Iraqi for defamation, said that the family had asked several lawyers to handle his brother’s defence, but all of them refused so as not to be tarnished with “dishonourable cases.”

“[Iraqi] damaged the families of 26 people because of the fake exclusive she wanted to air,” another relative waiting for the session said.

All relatives spoke on condition of anonymity, citing concerns about being associated with the trial.

A group of volunteer lawyers ended up handling the case.

Ahmed Hossam, one of the lawyers, said he usually defends cases of homosexuality and contempt of religion, cases that no other lawyer would be “interested” in handling.

Mohamed Zakariya, a lawyer who is defending the bathhouse owner, said the bathhouse is located in a populous area between cafes and was established more than a hundred years ago. Defendants were not arrested while having a sexual intercourse but rather while bathing, Zakariya added.

Public bathhouses are common in Egypt, typically offering massages, bathing pools and showers to male customers.

In a similar case in November, eight men were sentenced to three years in prison after a video of them taking part in what was widely reported to be same-sex wedding ceremony went viral on social media.

The men deny the charges and deny any homosexual relationship, and have appealed their sentences.

Critics argue that the crackdown on gay people comes in a context of a wider assault on freedoms, in a country wracked by four years of political turmoil. The arrested include atheists, social media activists and democracy advocates, some of them icons of the 2011 revolution, mainly on charges of breaching the controversial law which bans unauthorised protests.

Authorities say they aim to bring security back to the streets, made turbulent by the ongoing defiance of supporters of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi who was ousted in 2013.

“It's a worse situation for anybody who is different…because of the pressure to conform and to demonise people,” said Scott Long, a human rights advocate researching gay rights who was attending the trial.

Long said there had been at least 150 cases of alleged homosexuals being arrested since last year, the largest number in years.



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