Egypt: The "Boulak Four"

Europe and the US Bankroll Brutality Abroad E-Mail Blast the Abusers and Their Allies!!

SUMMARY

On February 3, 2002, a court in Boulak-al-Dakrour (in Giza, a suburb of Cairo) convicted four men for consensual homosexual behavior. A judge sentenced each to three years in prison with three years' probation to follow. Days later, Europe and the United States gave Egypt billions of dollars to keep such courts, police, and prisons running.

The "Boulak 4" had been arrested on November 10, 2001. The Egyptian press announced the arrests on November 15, the morning after verdicts were handed down in the "Cairo 52" trial--in an apparent signal that State pursuit of suspected homosexuals would be unrelenting. That day, an IGLHRC representative was able to speak to one of the men through the bars of a police wagon at the Public Prosecutor's Office in Boulak. The prisoner told how all four had been beaten and ill-treated during interrogations.

The four men have been jailed since their arrest. The February 3 session was the only full hearing in the case. Prosecutors called no witnesses and submitted virtually no evidence. Other hearings had been aborted because the prosecution failed to summon the accused from prison. The judge had earlier described the defendants in abusive language.

Persecution for suspected homosexual conduct continues in Egypt. At least eight men now face trial in Damanhour, capital of Al-Beheira province; the Egyptian press has already described them as the "Beheira Perverts' Organization." IGLHRC has also learned of seven men who were arrested and tortured for alleged homosexual conduct after a September 2001 police raid on a birthday party in Haram, a Cairo suburb. More information on these cases can be found below.

IGLHRC is alarmed not only by the pattern of persecution, but by other governments' unconcern--a malign neglect almost amounting to tacit approval. Barely two weeks after the Cairo 52 verdicts, the European Union approved a new trade agreement with Egypt, brushing aside human rights concerns. Three days after the Boulak verdict, the United States and the European Union, joined by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, pledged over $10 billion in aid to Egypt.

IGLHRC calls for IMMEDIATE letters to the Egyptian government to protest these ongoing arrests. IGLHRC also calls for IMMEDIATE letters to officials of the European Union and of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Condemn the bankrolling of brutality. Urge them to link their aid programs to human rights records in all cases, throughout the region and worldwide, and to promote basic values of freedom and justice in their dealings with all their allies.

Below, find e-mail addresses to write to; a sample letter; and a Background section with information on:

  1. The "Boulak Four"
  2. The Damanhour case
  3. The "Birthday ambush" in Haram
  4. Human rights and European and US aid to Egypt

ACTION

A sample letter for Egyptian officials, and another for European and US officials, can be found below. Send e-mail messages to:

EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT:

His Excellency, President Mohammad Hosni Mubarak
E-mail: webmaster@presidency.gov.eg
His Excellency, Counsellor Farouk Seif Al Nasr
Minister of Justice
E-mail: mojeb@idsc1.gov.eg
Mr Ahmed Maher Al-Sayad
Minister of Foreign Affairs
E-mail: minexter@idscl.gov.eg or ForMin@idsc.gov.eg

Note: These addresses may be shut down in response to mass e-mails. If so, try resending the message in a few days.

EUROPEAN UNION:

Mr. Romano Prodi
President of the European Commission
E-mail: romano.prodi@cec.eu.int
Mr. Christopher Patten
Member of the European Commission, External Relations
E-mail: christopher.patten@cec.eu.int
Herr Elmar Brok, Chairman, European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security, and Defense Policy (Germany)
E-mail: ebrok@europarl.eu.int
Mr Geoffrey Van Orden, Vice-Chairman, European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security, and Defense Policy (United Kingdom)
E-mail: gvanorden@europarl.eu.int

FRANCE:

M. Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic
Go to http://www.elysee.fr/ecrire/mail.htm and paste your message into the box
M. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Prime Minister
Go to http://www.premier-ministre.gouv.fr/PM/MAIL.HTM and paste your message into the box

GERMANY:

Herr Gerhard Schroeder, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
E-mail: posteingang@bundesregierung.de,
gerhard.schroeder@spd.de
Herr Joschka Fischer, Minister of Foreign Affairs
E-mail: poststelle@auswaertiges-amt.de

UNITED KINGDOM:

Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
E-mail: strawj@parliament.uk
Or go to http://www.fco.gov.uk/feedback.asp and paste your message into the box

UNITED STATES:

Mr. George W. Bush, President of the United States
E-mail: president@whitehouse.gov
Mr. Colin Powell, Secretary of State
E-mail: secretary@state.gov

SAMPLE LETTER- TO EGYPTIAN OFFICIALS:

Your excellency:

I am shocked by the continuing persecution of people suspected of consensual homosexual behavior in Egypt. On February 3, four men were convicted of homosexual behavior by a court in Boulak-al-Dakrour, and sentenced to three years' imprisonment each. This trial took place under unfair conditions. No evidence was introduced to prove their guilt; the judge abusively called the men "khawalat" in open court. In Damanhour in Al-Beheira governorate, eight men were arrested in January for alleged homosexual behavior. I am shocked by other reports of police raids on private residences. I am also shocked by reports that police entrap men through the Internet. These abuses must stop. Your government has recently allowed a new trial for Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who was imprisoned for the exercise of his political and civil rights. You should see that he is pardoned immediately--and that the 23 men convicted of homosexual acts on November 14, 2001, who were tried by the same repressive courts, are similarly freed. You should also ensure that all persons now imprisoned or facing trial under Article 9(c) of Law 10/1961 are immediately freed, and that this repressive law is repealed.


TO EUROPEAN AND US OFFICIALS:

(Please remove last two sentences before pasting into the UK Foreign Office web page text box, to fit character limits)

Dear . . .

I am shocked that Europe and the United States continue to lavish aid on the government of Egypt despite its repressive policies. Egypt regularly tortures and imprisons men for consensual homosexual behavior. In Boulak-al-Dakrour, 4 men received 3-year prison sentences on February 3; in Damanhour, eight men were rounded up in January for the same "crime." These follow the 2001 Cairo case in which 23 men were sentenced to years at hard labor. The persecution of homosexuals is of a piece with the persecution of other groups in Egypt, including non-violent Muslim activists who are jailed and tortured under repressive legislation which conflates dissent with "terrorism." Democracies discredit themselves by turning a blind eye to violence and abuse. I am shocked by the US/European decision to support Egypt with $10 billion in aid, only days after the Boulak verdict. Please strongly condemn Egypt's brutal persecution of homosexual conduct, as well as its suppression of other forms of dissent. Please see that your support for so-called allies worldwide, whoever they may be, is firmly tied to an examination of their human rights records. Human rights must not be detached from a humane foreign policy.

BACKGROUND A: THE "BOULAK FOUR"

On November 10, 2001--four days before the verdict was handed down in the Cairo 52 case--four men were arrested in or around the Boulak-al-Dakrour district in Giza, a Cairo suburb. The arrests were first reported on November 15, in the newspapers Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhureya, as addenda to their articles on the Cairo 52 trial. The papers stated that the men had been arrested for turning an apartment into a "den of perversion."

The exact circumstances of the arrest are unclear. Prosecution accounts later claimed the men were arrested at the alleged apartment. The accused and their lawyers stated that all were seized on the street--one in Giza Square in Giza, the other three were arrested one by one in various places around Cairo. apparently fingered by an informer. (See Section C below for more information on informers.)

An IGLHRC representative, in Cairo to attend the November 14 trial, immediately learned that the four menwere being questioned at the Boulak Public Prosecutor's office. Arriving there, the IGLHRC representative was able to speak to one of the defendants through the bars of a police wagon. Speaking in tears, the defendant said that he had been stripped naked and beaten with batons, splashed with cold water in the face, and left hanging by the bars in his jail cell. He said the other three defendants had been beaten as well. He said that only two of the defendants actually knew one another before their arrests.

Only by chance had the accused men been able to get legal representation--a difficult task for detainees, whom the Egyptian criminal justice system virtually bars from contact with the outside world. At their first interrogation at the Public Prosecutor's office, the four had seen two lawyers passing in the hall and had begged them in tears to take the case.

At the November 15 hearing at the Prosecutors' office, their detention was extended for 45 days. Detention was renewed again at a January 1 hearing, with the prisoners ultimately moved to Tora Prison.

The four defendants--Rami S., Sherif H., Sherif A., and Mohammed S.--were jailed until their trial ultimately took place on February 3. January saw a display of ineptitude by the Boulak Public Prosecutor's Office. The trial was scheduled to begin on January 20 in the Boulak al-Dakrour Court of Misdemeanors; however, the prosecution had neglected to send a summons to Tora Prison, to bring the prisoners to court. The judge opened the proceedings by demanding of the bailiff, "Where are the khawalat [a demeaning term for transvestites or homosexuals]? Bring in the khawalat."

A hearing was next attempted on January 27; the prisoners were again absent, as the prosecution had still not sent a summons. The judge issued another summons for February 3, and this time sent the men's defense lawyer to carry it to Tora Prison, warning him that if the prisoners were not brought to court on that date he might sentence them in absentia.

The prisoners finally appeared at the February 3 hearing, white-clad and with their heads shaven. The trial was conducted in the office of Judge Medhat Fahwaikh, with a representative of Amnesty International also in attendance.

The men were charged with "habitual practice of debauchery" [al-fujur] under Article 9(c) of Law 10/1961--a provision commonly used in Egypt to consensual homosexual behavior. However, they were also apparently charged under other Articles in that law which criminalize prostitution, and it was alleged that they had run an apartment for homosexual prostitution. The prosecution introduced the address of an apartment but no contract showing its owner/renter, or any evidence that any of the defendants were connected with it. All defendants denied the charge or any such connection.

IGLHRC is gravely concerned that the Egyptian government--aware that the mandates of major international human rights organizations may include consensual homosexual conduct but not prostitution--intends to place future defendants outside the penumbra of protection by charging them with performing homosexual acts for money.

The prosecution introduced virtually no other evidence. The defendants had not been referred to forensic examinations, and none had confessed. No prosecution witness was summoned. The vice squad officer responsible for the arrests never appeared, despite no fewer than four summons. Nonetheless, the judge convicted all four men, and sentenced them to three years' imprisonment, to be followed by three years' probation.
Because (unlike the Cairo 52 trial) this case was not heard by an Emergency Special Security Court for Misdemeanors, the defendants are allowed to appeal.

BACKGROUND B: THE DAMANHOUR CASE

On January 20, 2002, the opposition newspaper Al-Wafd reported the arrest of a "network of perverts" in Damanhour, the capital of Al-Beheira province, southwest of Alexandria. The newspaper report was headlined, "Major Network of Perverts Arrested in Al-Beheira: Social Security employee used his home as a lair for the practice of debauchery." The newspaper said that eight men had been jailed after police "stormed the apartment" and found the eight defendants "in debauched positions." It also stated that some of the defendants "were wearing gowns and makeup."

According to the report, the civil servant who owned the apartment was arrested along with all others present. The prisoners reportedly included an upholsterer (52 years old), a shoe-shiner (52 years old), a factory employee (37 years old), a mechanic (32 years old), and a carter (19 years old). Damanhour prosecutor Yaseen Zaghloul ordered that the men be subjected to medical examinations of their genitals and anuses. Police confiscated "an address book containing the names and addresses of a large number of perverts," the newspaper said-- raising fears of further arrests.

Activists in Cairo were able to hire an attorney to investigate the case. On January 23 he was able to speak to police in Damanhour. However, the chief inspector, whom police identified only as Yaseen Bey, refused to share information or show him the police report. (One difficulty faced by pre-trial detainees in Egypt is obtaining legal representation: only the detainee himself or immediate family can sign documents authorizing representation, a right denied to NGOs, friends, and others. However, the prisoner obviously has severely restricted contact with the outside world; and in cases, such as this one, where stigma and shame are severe, relatives may sever relations with the defendant--or the defendant may wish to conceal the case from them.)

The lawyer was able to learn that three men had been released, apparently on bail, but five were still imprisoned: police refused to tell him their names. The secretary at the police station said to the attorney, "dol mosh fujur ya austaz dool khawalat" [it is not a case of "debauchery" but of faggots].

On January 26, the defendants appeared before a judge, who extended their detention for a further 45 days. It is unclear whether the 3 who had reportedly been freed were again jailed. Officials closed the hearing and barred the attorney from attending, and the prosecutor told him, "I have orders to be extra careful in this particular case."

The attorney continues to attempt to contact the prisoners and obtain the right to represent them. In the meantime, on January 28, the national paper Al-Osboa published what purported to be the "Beheira Perverts Organization Ringleader's Confession," recounting how he and his confederates "plotted ways and means which would lead us to our fellow-perverts." The article included initials, ages, and employment details of most of the accused.

The exact charges are still not known. IGLHRC fears that the allegations, involving "debauchery" in an apartment, resemble the "Boulak Four" case--and that the government may again try to mask the persecution of suspected homosexuals under legal strictures against prostitution.

BACKGROUND C: THE BIRTHDAY AMBUSH IN HARAM

IGLHRC has learned disturbing details of a 2001 case in which an informer handed seven suspected homosexuals over to the police. The case may be connected to the case of the "Boulak Four."

"H" recounts that on September 7, with a friend, he attended a birthday party in the Cairo suburb of Haram, at the apartment of a man named Sherif, whom they had met at a discotheque. Six other men were present. At 11 PM, Sherif left to buy more drinks, locking the men in the flat. Fifteen minutes later, the police came--unlocking the apartment door with its key.

All seven in the flat were taken to the Haram Police Station. Police told them they would be questioned about a case of theft, then freed. However, they were held in detention for two days. Only on their first appearance before the Public Prosecutor did they learn that they were charged with the "habitual practice of debauchery" under Law 10/1961.

Their detention was extended for four days, then for an additional 45. In the end, the men spent almost two months in custody. "H" reports that for the first 25 days, in the lockup in Haram Police Station, they were beaten every day. They were eventually released after a court hearing. "H" does not know what happened to the other six defendants.

He did not attend his trial. However, an attorney making inquiries at the Haram Court of Misdemeanors was able to learn that "H" was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. He faces serving this sentence if found by the police.

"H" reportedly learned about the case of the "Boulak Four" while in detention in Haram Police Station, and heard that Sherif had also informed on them to the police.

BACKGROUND D:. HUMAN RIGHTS AND EUROPEAN AND US AID TO EGYPT

On November 30--two weeks after the Cairo 52 verdict was handed down--the European Parliament approved a Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement for economic cooperation between Egypt and the European Union.

Many parliamentarians criticized Egypt's human rights record. The European Union's External Affairs Commissioner, Chris Patten, told the Parliament that Egypt had "made many strides" in both economic reform and human rights. However, British MEP Michael Cashman protested strongly to Patten, and secured signatures of 32 MEPs to a letter to President Mubarak, expressing concern over the Cairo 52 trial. The Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs produced a report calling on the Egyptian government to respect human rights, repeal the death penalty, and end trials of suspected homosexuals.

Amid the controversy, the Speaker of the Egyptian People's Assembly, Fathi Sourour, wrote to the European Parliament, declaring that "Only the Egyptian Parliament has the right to monitor the respect of the government" for human rights. He also asserted that "homosexuality does not figure in Egyptian law," and that the Cairo 52 were "accused of debauchery and contempt of religion," not homosexual acts. Sourour's mendacious statements were apparently accepted by the Parliament in approving the accord.

The founding treaties of the European Union make human rights putatively central to its external relations and economic agreements. The 1993 Treaty on European Union mandated that Community policy in the area of development cooperation "shall contribute to the general objective of developing and consolidating democracy and the rule of law and to that of respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms." Article J.1 of the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam named the same purpose as an object of the Union's foreign and security policy. And the 2001 Treaty of Nice made the same requirement of all "economic financial, and technical cooperation measures with third countries." As a result, EU economic agreements with other countries have since the mid-1990s always included a "human rights clause," making enforcement of the agreement depend on respect for human rights by both parties. Sample language usually reads (among other promises): "The Parties refer to their international obligations and commitments concerning respect for human rights. They reiterate their deep attachment to human dignity and human rights, which are legitimate aspirations of individuals and peoples. Human rights are universal, indivisible and inter-related. The Parties undertake to promote and protect all fundamental freedoms and human rights, be they civil and political, or economic, social and cultural. . . . Respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law . . . shall underpin the domestic and international policies of the Parties and constitute the essential elements of this Agreement."

The European Union's self-deception about Egypt's rights record raises renewed questions about whether such clauses are effective or enforceable, and whether such words retain their dictionary meanings. MEP Cashman, together with several colleagues, has introduced resolutions calling for the European Commission to "draft a concrete proposal for the implementation of the human rights clause." IGLHRC urgently supports such measures to turn paper rhetoric into proper action. (See http://www.michaelcashmanmep.org.uk/press/releases/22_11_2001_egypt.htm for more information on the European Parliament and Egypt.)

The United States, meanwhile, regards Israel and Egypt as its prime allies in the region, supports both with extensive foreign aid, and only gingerly criticizes the human rights record of either. On February 6--three days after the "Boulak Four" verdict--representatives of the United States and the European Union, together with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, met at Sharm-el-Sheik to pledge Egypt $10.3 billion in aid over three years. Over $2 billion would be disbursed immediately. The US delegation head praised Egypt's "quest for regional peace and stability."

Reports of the discussions do not suggest that human rights concerns were raised. The World Bank, however, issued a statement calling for "accelerating structural reforms [and] improving the business environment." The words suggest that the aid may be destined for only limited sectors of the population, and that the politics of impoverishment--which drive many developing States to demagoguery and abuse, in quest of distractions from economic and social disaster--may also, in Egypt, proceed unabated.

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