UPDATE: On Thursday, October 12, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a local nongovernmental organization, reported that the number of those arrested has climbed to 65 with 20 people receiving jail sentences varying from six months to six years, two acquitted, and two released; the rest continue to await sentencing. TIMEP condemns these sentences as part of the Egyptian government’s persecution of the LGBT community and assault on freedom of expression. TIMEP calls on Egyptian authorities to immediately release those arrested and to terminate the investigation that followed the raising of the rainbow flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo on September 22.
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UPDATE: Through Wednesday, October 4, Egyptian authorities’ crackdown on Egypt’s LGBT community has continued to intensify. Since TIMEP’s initial statement on Tuesday, arrests have continued, bringing the total detained to at least 57. Nine of those arrested have already been sentenced, with 35 others before the court. Privately owned local media outlet al-Youm al-Sabaa has also quoted security sources as claiming that among those accused are people who received funding from foreign bodies and rights organizations seeking the “breakdown of society” and the spread of “ideas that undermine public conduct and morals.” Al-Youm al-Sabaa goes on to refer to the raising of the rainbow flag at the Mashrou’ Leila concert as a signal of the alleged plan’s implementation. TIMEP continues to call on the Egyptian government to immediately end its persecution of Egypt’s LGBT community and wider crackdown on individual freedoms and freedom of expression.
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Over the past four days, the Egyptian government has issued a ban on the media’s coverage and promotion of sympathy of LGBT individuals and arrested at least 22 people on account of what is believed to be their sexual orientation. Both incidents come as the latest in a series of repressive actions meant to persecute Egypt’s LGBT community that began September 25. The weekend’s detainments bring the total arrested to 33. Of those arrested, five have been subject to anal examinations by the Forensic Medical Authority, intended to determine whether homosexual acts have been committed. Charges of those detained include “debauchery,” “inciting immorality,” “promoting habitual debauchery,” and “promoting sexual deviancy.” Detainees have experienced rushed judicial proceedings, with 16 of those arrested last week scheduled to receive a verdict later this month.
The first wave of arrests came on the heels of criticism in the Egyptian media that followed the release of photos of a rainbow flag being flown in the crowd at Lebanese alternative rock band Mashrou’ Leila’s concert in Cairo on September 22. The band’s lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is openly gay and many of the group’s songs discuss gender and sexuality. Egyptian Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadiq began an investigation on September 25 that was endorsed in a local media campaign that invoked hate speech toward LGBT people in articles and interviews. Following the media’s campaign, additional arrests were made, with Egyptian police claiming that those detained were homosexuals promoting immoral activity.
Intimidation and repression of LGBT people by Egyptian authorities and media has long been an issue of concern. In January 2015, an Egyptian court upheld the acquittal of 26 men who were charged with debauchery in the September 2014 bathhouse raid case, which involved a crackdown incited by a television host’s segment intended to highlight the “spread of AIDS in Egypt.” In September 2015, a court sentenced six men to two years in prison on charges of “committing debauchery,” following their arrest during an apartment raid. In December 2015, a court upheld the conviction of eight other men for “inciting debauchery” after a video circulated showing their attendance at a same-sex wedding. The most egregious example of such measures is the 2001 Queen Boat incident, in which a floating restaurant and nightclub was raided and 52 men were put on trial.
“The Egyptian government’s targeting of the LGBT community over the past week represents one of the many facets of its penchant to act outside the law and employ brutality and human rights violations to repress individual freedoms and freedom of expression,” said TIMEP Executive Director Dr. Nancy Okail.
TIMEP strongly condemns the Egyptian government’s sustained, sweeping crackdown on and intimidation of the country’s LGBT community and their supporters. Recent arrests demonstrate a disregard for citizen’s privacy, dignity, and freedom of expression, while the ban on the media’s ability to sympathize with the community is an overt attack on free press. Moreover, the anal examinations conducted by police forces are acts of torture that constitute human rights violations. TIMEP calls on Egyptian authorities to terminate their investigation of the raising of the rainbow flag, release the 33 who have been arrested, and end torture practices employed by security forces in Egypt’s prisons.