New report details torture of gays in Egypt
March 02 2004 1:00 AM ET
Egyptian authorities have entrapped, arrested, and tortured hundreds of men suspected of engaging in consensual gay sex, a New York-based human rights group claimed in a report released Monday that demands an end to such actions. Human Rights Watch urged Egypt to repeal legislation allowing the prosecution of consensual homosexual relations--covered under the country's debauchery laws--and permitting police surveillance and entrapment. In a 144-page report titled "In a Time of Torture: The Assault on Justice in Egypt's Crackdown on Homosexual Conduct," Human Rights Watch documents what it describes as Egyptian government repression of gay men. It condemned the practice of police agents surfing the Internet and answering personals placed by men seeking men, then arranging meetings with them and arresting them. Gen. Ahmed Shehab, who oversees Internet-related crimes for the Interior Ministry, said he had not yet seen the report and was unable to comment on it. However, vice officials in the past have acknowledged the practice of answering Internet personals by gay men and praised it for getting results.
At a press conference to launch the report on Monday, Human Rights Watch and Egyptian rights groups accused the government of ignoring its own declarations to the United Nations and the European Union that homosexuality is legal. "The speaker of the People's Assembly states in a letter to the European
Parliament that there are no laws which discriminate against homosexuality or homosexual conduct in Egypt," said Scott Long, HRW's director for gay and lesbian issues. "The police at Abideen police station [in Cairo] clearly have a different opinion because they are going out and they are arresting men who are doing nothing, who are accused of nothing but consensual, private, homosexual conduct."
Islam prohibits homosexuality, and it is also taboo in conservative Egypt. Although the Egyptian penal code does not refer to homosexuality, prosecutors have detained and prosecuted gay men on the charge of "debauchery." In 2001, 52 men stood trial for "the habitual practice of debauchery." Twenty-three were convicted and sentenced to up to five years in prison. The rest were acquitted. The report said HRW "knows the names of 179 men whose cases under the law against 'debauchery' were brought before prosecutors since the beginning of 2001." It notes that hundreds of others have been harassed, arrested, and often tortured but not charged. The rights group interviewed 63 men last year who had been arrested for homosexuality. They spoke of being whipped, bound, suspended in painful positions, splashed with ice-cold water, burned with cigarettes, and shocked with electricity to the limbs, genitals, or tongue, according to the report. "The government," said HRW executive director Kenneth Roth, "has found it advantageous to demonize this group of people as a way of diverting attention from other problems."
Gen. Assem Omran, the Egyptian police official in charge of vice, whose department was specifically mentioned in the report, declined to comment. Egyptian officials have long pointed to cultural differences to defend the government against foreign criticism over its treatment of gays and lesbians. On Monday, however, five Egyptian human rights organizations added their backing to the HRW report. Aida Seif el-Dawla, who represented two of the Egyptian groups at the press conference, acknowledged that some local groups had been slow to speak out on the issue of police harassment of gay men because of the sensitivity of the issue. "This was not a human rights attitude, this was a political attitude," said el-Dawla, who runs the el-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence. Roth attacked the government on the broader issue of torture of all types of detainees. He accused prosecutors of failing to act against police officers who abuse people in custody, granting them a "policy of impunity." "There is clearly systematic torture," Roth said. "We don't have evidence that it is ordered from above, but it is clearly tolerated from above."