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Attack on gay rights, Egypt

Date: 9 April 2014
Source: Index on Censorship

A Cairo misdemeanour court has sentenced three men to eight years in prison "for committing homosexual acts". A fourth defendant in the case was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour.

The men were arrested in March, following a police raid on a private apartment in Cairo where a party was being held. Prosecutors said one of the defendants had rented the apartment to receive "sexual deviants" in his home and host parties for them. While there are no laws banning homosexuality in Egypt, "debauchery" or breaking the country's law of public morals is outlawed. Egyptian courts use legislation on debauchery to prosecute gay people on charges of "contempt of religion" and "sexual immorality".

The severe sentences the four men received have raised concerns among rights campaigners of a widening crackdown on Egypt's long-oppressed and marginalised gay community. The recent crackdown is reminiscent of a security clampdown in 2001, before the Arab Spring. In May 2001, 52 people suspected of being gay were arrested on charges of immorality during a raid on a tourist boat moored on the Nile in Cairo. Twenty three of the men were sentenced to up to five years in prison with hard labour. Some analysts said at the time that the sudden crackdown was a means of diverting attention away from the regime's failures.

Many of Egypt's gay men and women were at the heart of the January 2011 protests demanding democracy, freedom and social justice. They had hoped that the revolution would usher in a new era of change including greater freedoms and tolerance, allowing them to better integrate into mainstream society.

However, rights campaigners report that the situation has worsened since the Arab Spring. Even following the removal of an Islamic government in July 2013, there has been a rise in the number of arrests of people based on their sexual orientation, along with a wider crackdown on personal freedoms.