Egypt: Egyptian Justice on Trial - The Case of the Cairo 52

FACT SHEET October 15, 2001

WHAT HAS HAPPENED UNTIL NOW?

On the night of May 10/11, 2001, State Security police, accompanied by members of the vice squad, raided the Queen Boat discotheque in Cairo, Egypt. At least 55 men were arrested there and in random police pickups during the following days. A few of the detainees were later released: all the rest have been held in detention, mostly in Tora prison, since their arrest. 52 of the men were brought before an Emergency State Security Court, the verdicts of which cannot be appealed. The trial of these 52 began on July 18 and is still ongoing, with a verdict scheduled to be delivered on November 14.

All the 52 defendants were charged with "obscene behavior" under a law against prostitution (Article 9c of Law No. 10 of 1961 on the Combat of Prostitution). Two of the men, accused of being the ringleaders of a homosexual "cult," are charged in addition with "contempt for religion" under Article 98f of the Penal Code. All 52 have pleaded innocent and are presenting individual defenses.

A teenager was also charged with "obscene behavior" and accused of belonging to the same "cult." He was tried (under the law against prostitution) in a juvenile court because of his age, and was sentenced on September 18 to the maximum penalty allowed by law: three years in prison, to be followed by three years of probation. Because of his age, he is permitted to appeal.

WHAT COMES NEXT?

  • OCTOBER 31: A juvenile court will begin hearing the appeal of the teenager already sentenced.
  • NOVEMBER 14: The verdict for the Cairo 52 will be announced.

SEVEN THINGS THAT ARE WRONG ABOUT THIS CASE

  1. At least some of the men have been tortured in detention
  2. The men were subjected to abusive and intrusive forensic tests to "prove their homosexuality"
  3. The State-directed media published the names, addresses, and photographs of the arrested men
  4. The men were held incommunicado and many lack appropriate legal representation
  5. The men are being tried in a court whose rulings cannot be appealed
  6. Criminal penalties for consensual homosexual behavior violate international law
  7. There is strong evidence to suggest the men may have been framed

1/ At least some of the men have been tortured in detention

Reports from lawyers indicate that the men were subjected to beatings, electroshock, and abuse from their first incarceration in the police lockup, apparently in order to force them to confess to homosexual acts. During trial hearings, some of the men detained have managed to tell friends, family, and reporters through the wires of the courtroom cage that the beatings and abuse continue. Moreover, the juvenile sentenced on September 18 claimed a confession had been extracted from him by torture--although the judge ignored the allegation. Authorities refuse to investigate these claims. (See appendix for evidences of torture)

2/ The men were subjected to abusive and intrusive forensic tests to "prove their homosexuality"

After their arrest, many of the men were subjected to forensic examinations of the genitals and anus, apparently in order to determine whether they had engaged in anal intercourse. The results of these examinations were presented at hearings before the Supreme State Security Prosecution on June 6 and 7, and have since been used as evidence before the Court. Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC have condemned such examinations as a form of cruel and inhuman treatment, "profoundly degrading and humiliating to those forced to undergo them." They are comparable to forced examinations of a woman's virginity, a practice which has been condemned by the United Nations.

3/ The State-directed media published the names, addresses, and photographs of the arrested men

Both official and independent newspapers published the names and professions of the men; some front pages carried their pictures with the eyes blacked out. Such publicity, in the context of a campaign of vilification in the media, ensures that the arrested men will continue to be stigmatized long after they leave prison. Moreover, publishing details of an ongoing investigation or trial that might influence the proceedings is prohibited by both the Press Law 96/1996 and the Code of Ethics issued by the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate: yet the government refuses to apply its own laws, and journalists violate their own standards. (See appendix for examples of damaging media coverage).

4/ The men were held incommunicado and many lack appropriate legal representation

The men were prevented from communicating with their families or with lawyers through the early part of their nearly 6-month detention. The isolation of the men has prevented preparing a common defense. Several are defended by a lawyer from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, a major Egyptian human rights organization, others by whatever legal representation their families were able to find. Four men still lacked legal representation as late as October 10. Lawyers were only informed officially of the details of the accusations as the hearing began. According to the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram, one lawyer stated, "The dossier of the case includes 1000 pages. We had little time to study it and prepare our defense."

5/ The men are being tried in a court whose rulings cannot be appealed

The Emergency State Security Court for Misdemeanors was established 20 years ago by edicts passed after the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat. There is no right of appeal to a higher tribunal: its decisions can be overturned only by the special intervention of the President of the Republic. The denial of appeal violates basic international standards for a fair trial.

6/ Criminal penalties for consensual homosexual behavior violate international law

The United Nations Human Rights Committee held in 1994 that international-law protections against discrimination ban unequal treatment based on sexual orientation--and that laws criminalizing consensual homosexual behavior are violations of human rights. Although Egyptian law does not penalize homosexual acts by name, it is clear that the men are accused of engaging in consensual homosexual sex. Moreover, previous Egyptian court decisions have reportedly found that sexual acts between two men fall under the definition of "obscene behavior," prohibited by the law against prostitution. The treatment of homosexuality in Egyptian law violates international treaties which Egypt has signed, as well as the principles of human rights.

7/ There is strong evidence to suggest the men may have been framed

The charges that the men engaged in homosexual sex may be completely false. A number of the men were not arrested in the Queen Boat raid and apparently had no connection to the case. The circumstances of their arrests, the State-sponsored media diatribes, and a history of previous raids and "scandals" in the past all suggest that the Cairo 52 may have been framed as part of an Egyptian government campaign to appease conservative and religious forces.

WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE OF A FRAME-UP IN THIS CASE?

  1. Some of the men detained were not at the Queen Boat
  2. There were many procedural problems with the arrests
  3. The State press created a media circus around the case
  4. Similar cases, with similar media scandals, have been trumped up in the past

1/ Some of the men detained were not at the Queen Boat

Police released contradictory and false information immediately after the arrests, including reports that a "gay marriage" had been taking place aboard the Queen Boat. In fact, not all the defendants were even present at the Queen Boat the night of May 10--or even in the vicinity. Of the 52 defendants, 19 were arrested elsewhere, many the following day. Many were picked up randomly under other charges. After their arrests, they were placed in the ranks of suspected "homosexuals" by police eager to stimulate a scandal. (See appendix for examples)

2/ There were many procedural problems with the arrests

Defense lawyers argue that proper arrest procedures were not followed, that the arrests were made at random with no prior investigations, and that charges were fabricated after the arrests. For example, four of the defendants had initially given false names and addresses to the police, and prosecutors did not determine this for weeks. Yet police later claimed these four men were under police surveillance before the arrests-- at these false addresses!

3/ The State press created a media circus around the case

Immediately following the arrests the State-controlled media began a campaign of vilification in the Egyptian press, accusing the men of blasphemy, of belonging to a religious "cult," and of ties to foreign and subversive forces in Israel or Europe. The campaign--quickly picked up by the independent press as well--provided a welcome distraction from the government's domestic and diplomatic difficulties. Popular anger was directed away from politics and poverty, and toward an imaginary gay "conspiracy." The campaign also made it almost impossible for the detained men to receive a fair trial or, in some cases, to find legal representation at all. (See appendix for examples of damaging media coverage)

4/ Similar cases, with similar media scandals, have been trumped up in the past

At the October 10 hearing in this case, one of the defense lawyers revealed that a case with similar details had been fabricated at almost exactly the same time one year ago--beginning on May 25, 2000--by the same team of arresting officers. In that case, 150 people were accused of homosexual acts. May is the month in which officers' records are evaluated by their superiors, in preparation for official reports on performance which are due in June. Hence it is a useful time for police to engage in extraordinary, and abusive, displays of diligence. The case of the 150 was thrown out by a judge in a civil court on July 27, 2000 due to the lack of any evidence beyond the officers' statements.

The Cairo 52 case also resembles a 1997 Egyptian case in which 78 teenage men were arrested, and, amid charges of homosexual practices, accused of "Satanism." They were freed after two months in detention, and the case was never brought to the courts. In the meantime, though, their names and even photographs were widely circulated in the popular media, tarnishing their reputations despite their release.

WHAT IS THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMUNITY SAYING ABOUT THE CAIRO 52?

The Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, a major Egyptian human rights group, has spoken out against the arrests and is defending some of the accused in court. However, some other Egyptian human rights organizations have been reluctant to intervene on behalf of the Cairo 52. Some have actively endorsed the State crackdown.

"We generally defend liberties but there are red lines that we should stop at."

Samir Al Bagouri of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid.

"Personally, I don't like the subject of homosexuality, and I don't want to defend them."

Hafez Abu Saada , Secretary-General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights

"When we started campaigning against female genital mutilation people said we wanted all of Egyptian society to work in prostitution. We live in a conservative society that condemns homosexuality and we have to keep that in mind."

Mohammed Zari'a, the Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners (HRCAP)

Meanwhile, international human rights organizations and the United Nations have come out strongly against the Cairo 52 trial.

"The present case, with its rampant accusations of 'perversion,' perverts the rule of law. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) calls on the Egyptian government to release the men immediately, drop all charges, and end the repressive laws and extralegal practices which have enabled this travesty of justice."

Scott Long, Program Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

"This case exhibits some of the worst features of Egypt's justice system - prolonged and incommunicado detention and emergency proceedings on spurious charges."

Hanny Megally, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch

"Amnesty International is gravely concerned about the ongoing detention of scores of men in Egypt in connection with their sexual orientation."

Amnesty International

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have sent an urgent appeal to the Egyptian government about this case.

Demonstrations against the Egyptian government's conduct of the case were held in numerous cities worldwide on August 15.

On August 3, 35 members of US Congress signed a letter drafted by U.S. Representatives Barney Frank and Tom Lantos to Egypt's President Hosni Mobarak, expressing "strong disapproval" of the arrests.

On September 5, 30 members of the German Bundestag have also written a letter of protest to the Egyptian government, and members of the European Parliament have also protested the trial.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS CASE?

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) urges everyone to keep on pressuring the Egyptian government. Please see below for a link to our action alerts in this case. These actions remain current as of the writing of this fact sheet (October 15, 2001):

  • Action Alert September 21, 2001 English - español
    Teenager Sentenced in Cairo Case, New Evidence of Torture
    Repression Must Stop Now!
  • Action Alert Update August 17, 2001 English - español
    Government Shuts Down Email Addresses
    Protest Faxes and Letters Still Needed
  • Action Alert August 13, 2001 English - español
    Perversion of Justice
    Protest the Cairo Trial!

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