Egypt: Teenager Released from Jail After His Sentence Is Reduced on Appeal

New Hope for Remaining Men In Prison Because of Presumed Homosexuality

For Immediate Release: December 19, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO - Egyptian courts have reduced on appeal the sentence of a teenager, convicted of "the habitual practice of debauchery" because of his presumed homosexuality, to six months jail and six months probation. Jailed over six months ago in May, Mahmoud was released from jail to serve his probation.

"This is a tremendous victory for Mahmoud and his family," said Scott Long, Program Director at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). "Maybe the Egyptian government is starting to get the message that the arrest and torture of people for their presumed homosexuality must stop."

Mahmoud was delighted to be released, but remains concerned about the terms of his probation. He joined his family, who was present at the hearing today, and plans to go back home to his village.

After his arrest May 10, Mahmoud was convicted September 18 by the Cairo Juvenile Court and sentenced to the maximum penalty allowed by law: three years in jail and three years probation. His case was riddled with irregularities and allegations of torture. No reason was given by the court today for the reduction of his sentence on appeal.

"We still have 23 men serving hard labor sentences, and at least 4 more arrested and in detention since early November," added Mr. Long. "We need to keep up our pressure."

The 23 men are part of the Cairo 52 group, sentenced November 14 by an Emergency State Security Court to one to five years of hard labor. These sentences cannot be appealed, but they can be overturned by the direct intervention of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Despite international pleas, the Egyptian government has refused so far to pardon them. (See background information below).

IGLHRC is a US-based non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to protect and advance the human rights of all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.

Background Information on the Teenager's Case

Note: To protect his privacy, IGLHRC will not publish the full name of the teenager. We ask news media to act responsibly as well.

Chronology of Case

  • May 10: The teenager, Mahmoud, was arrested on Ramses Street near the central train station in Cairo at approximately 11 PM, as part of what appears to have been a general roundup of suspected homosexuals. At approximately the same time, a raid on the Queen Boat discotheque led to the arrest of 37 adult men for their presumed homosexuality. Other arrests were carried out on the street in the surrounding days. The case of 52 of these men who were ultimately tried before an Emergency State Security Court became known as the "Cairo 52" case.
  • May 11: At al-Azbekiyya police station, and later at the State Security Intelligence Department in Misr al-Gadida in Cairo, Mahmoud was interrogated. Without access to a lawyer or to his family, the teenager confessed to having sex with an unnamed truck driver. In a later statement before the court, the teenager stated that the confession was extracted under duress, after he was tortured with a falaqa or whip. This torture, widely practiced by Egyptian police, has been described by the US State Department as "suspending a prisoner by the feet and severely beating the soles of the feet."
  • May 12: Mahmoud was questioned by the State Security Prosecution, as were the other, adult detainees. One other prisoner in the Cairo 52 case, who was jailed together with the teenager, has stated the teenager told him the prosecutor insisted he confess to sex with multiple men, in exchange for not being referred to the harsh Emergency State Security Court with the Cairo 52. Certain elements of the later Court record--particularly peculiarities in the child's response to questioning--support this claim. In the end, the teenager's case was referred to Cairo Juvenile Court: its decisions (unlike those of the Emergency State Security Court) can be appealed. However, he remained in Tora Prison, on the outskirts of Cairo, where he was held with adult detainees.
  • September 18: The Cairo Juvenile Court convicted the teenager of the "habitual practice of debauchery" under Law 10/1961 (Article 9c) and sentenced him to the maximum penalty: three years in prison and three years probation. The teenager had pleaded not guilty, and stated that his initial confession to police was obtained under torture. The Court refused to investigate the allegations of torture. The Court also dismissed evidence produced after a coerced forensic "examination." Although conducted in non-consensual and abusive conditions, the examination nonetheless had concluded there was no physical evidence that the teenager had engaged in homosexual sex. The September 18 verdict was covered by the Egypt's State-controlled press, and the newspaper Al Goumhoreia printed the name and picture of the teenager--consistent with the media's sensationalistic and invasive coverage of the Cairo 52 case from the beginning. Egyptian legislation bars reporting which might prejudice court proceedings; the government has thus far refused to enforce its own laws in this case. September-November: After his conviction, Mahmoud was transferred to a Juvenile Punitive Institution in al-Marg, near Cairo to serve his sentence. His lawyers--including attorneys for the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, an Egyptian human rights organization--filed an appeal. Hearings on the appeal were held before the Juvenile Court on October 31 and November 21, with a decision scheduled for December 19. Al Goumhoreia again published the teenager's photograph in reporting on the hearings.
  • November 14: An Emergency State Security Court in Cairo delivered sentence upon the Cairo 52: 29 men were acquitted and 23 were sentenced to one to five years of hard labor for the 'habitual practice of debauchery' and/or 'contempt of religion.' The convictions cannot be appealed. Prosecutors can, however, appeal the acquittals.
  • December 14: The Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram reports that President Mubarak has, as usual, issued a broad amnesty of prisoners to celebrate the Eid holiday and the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The newspaper notes that the amnesty excludes prisoners who have served less than half of their sentences; it also indicates that the amnesty may specifically exclude convictions before State Security Courts and convictions under Law 10/1961 ("debauchery"), in apparent direct confirmation that neither the Cairo 52 nor the teenager will qualify.

Background Information on the Cairo 52 Case

On November 14, an Emergency State Security Court for Misdemeanors in Cairo sentenced 23 alleged homosexuals to one to five years of hard labor. These sentences cannot be appealed (though they can be overturned by the direct intervention of the President of the Republic). At the same time the Court acquitted 29 additional defendants. After delays of up to a week, the acquitted men were released; but their acquittals may still be appealed. Despite international pleas, the Egyptian government refuses to pardon the remaining 23 men.

The 52 men were arrested on or around the night of May 10, 2001. Most were detained in a raid on the Queen Boat discotheque in Cairo; others were seized in apparently random police pickups during the following days. The 52 were held in detention from their arrests until the trial. Defense lawyers argued that some of the men were tortured into confessing, that proper arrest procedures were not followed, that the arrests were made at random, and that charges were fabricated after the arrest. There are sufficient irregularities in the arrests and handling of this case to suggest that the Cairo 52 may have been framed. The State-controlled media engaged in a campaign of vilification against the 52, publishing their names and creating an environment of scandal around them, branding them perverts, members of a blasphemous or "Satanic" religious organization, and traitors.

All 52 pleaded innocent. Twenty-one defendants were convicted of the "habitual practice of debauchery" under a law against prostitution (Article 9c of Law No. 10 of 1961 on the Combat of Prostitution). One was convicted of "contempt for religion" under Article 98f of the Penal Code. Another, deemed the "ringleader" of the supposed "cult," was convicted under both charges and received the heaviest sentence, five years at hard labor.

The Cairo 52 trials have been condemned by international human rights organizations. Independent experts to the United Nations have questioned the Egyptian government's conduct. Members of the US Congress have condemned the trials. The European Parliament debated Egypt's human rights record, and the Cairo trial, in November--a debate which led the speaker of Egypt's Parliament to declare (in defiance of Egypt's commitments as a party to international treaties), "Only the Egyptian Parliament has the right to monitor the respect of the government [for human rights]."