More than two dozen men who were swept up in an unprecedented late-night raid on a Cairo bathhouse on December 7, 2014 have been acquitted of debauchery, reports BuzzFeed.
Although homosexuality is technically not illegal in Egypt, laws against "debauchery" and offending public morals are frequently used to prosecute and persecute LGBT people.
"While the courts were right to acquit the men, noting the weakness of the case against them, this verdict should not give the Egyptian government a free pass to continue to persecute its LGBT citizens," said Washington D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign-Global in a statement following news of the acquittal.
An update to BuzzFeed's J. Lester Feder's story about the acquittal, which was handed down by a court in Cairo on Sunday, noted that prosecutors filed an appeal Monday afternoon.
That appeal to retry the case did nothing to quell the jubilation among the accused men's supporters and family members. A mere accusation of homosexuality -- or that a man has ever been sexually penetrated by another man -- is a widely seen in Egypt as cultural scarlet letter that revokes an individual's status as a man, reports to Feder.
"Where is the press? Here are the real men!" was the clarion cry of many in the court following the announcement of the acquittal.
News of the raid on the bathhouse and the ensuing court case was widely reported in the mostly state-controlled Egyptian media. Coverage was led by Mona Iraqi, who hosts an investigative program el-Mestakhaby, which translates to "The Hidden," on a pro-government network. Iraqi was widely criticized by journalists the world over for allegedly setting up the police raid.
A Swiss film festival even fired her as its Egyptian representative because of the raid, for which she was present and allegedly called in to police. Iraqi billed her "expose" on the bathhouse as "the whole story of the dens for spreading AIDS in Egypt."
While the acquittal of the men accused is encouraging, advocates stress that it does not signal a change in favor of justice and acceptance for LGBT people in Egypt.
"There is no doubt that toda's acquittal is an important step forward for the rule of law in Egypt and a big victory for those 26 men," said Human Rights First's Shawn Gaylord in a statement Monday. "But there are still some questions that remain unanswered, the answers to which will help the international community know what to make of this verdict. If this was mostly a case of not being able to 'prove' homosexuality, its impact may be limited for other LGBT Egyptians. In addition, we must remember that many other human rights defenders remain in prison and face ongoing harassment by the Egyptian authorities."
At least one of the arrested men reports he was raped in custody, while guards stood by ignoring his cries for help, according to Feder's report.
were the words with which the alleged victim was delivered to his fellow inmates and alleged rapists by jail guards,
Speaking to BuzzFeed, defense attorney Mohammed Zaki, said that the alleged victim was delivered to his attackers -- allegedly fellow inmates -- by Egyptian guards. "Today is your lucky day -- enjoy, guys!" the guards allegedly stated as they left the victim with his alleged rapists. "Here's your lollipop."
All of the men arrested were subjected to the abusive, degrading, and unscientific practice of "anal examinations" which, supporters claim, can "determine" homosexuality based on a measurement of the tightness of the rectal sphincter muscle. Ironically, that examination entails penetration of the rectum with undefined so-called medical instruments.
Human rights groups called on the Egyptian government to respect the rights of all Egyptians, including LGBT citizens. Referring to the recent crackdown on LGBT Egyptians as "witch hunts," pointing to the alleged collusion between Egyptian security forces and journalist Iraqi, as well as recent reports that Egyptian police were posing as gay men on hookup app Grindr in an effort to ensnare gay men.
"Until the regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi demonstrates its commitment to protecting the human rights of all its citizens, the international community will monitor and shine a light on Egypt's acts to imprison LGBT people," HRC's statement said. "Engaging in witch hunts against the LGBT community in order to enhance the el-Sisi regime's conservative credentials is wrong, and harms innocent people."
One of the acquitted men's relatives, identified only as "Mahmoud," told BuzzFeed he would dedicate his life's work to holding journalist Mona Iraqi accountable for her alleged role in setting up the raid.
"We will not leave Mona Iraqi," he said. "We will take her to court. We will not leave [Lt. Col. Ahmed] Hashad. If I have to sell the furniture in my house to take a case to take her to jail, I will not let her rest until the end of her life."
Lt. Col. Hashad is the police commander who led December's bathhouse raid. Defense attorneys claimed that obvious holes Hashad's testimony resulted from him allegedly trying to fabricate a narrative that matched Iraqi's reporting.