Egypt: United Nations Condemns Trials of Suspected Homosexuals

Groundbreaking Step by Major U.N. Working Body

For Immediate Release: August 19, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO - A key human rights body of the United Nations has published a decision condemning the arbitrary detention and trial of presumed homosexuals in Egypt. (This file is in PDF format.) In this document, the U.N. confirms that the Egyptian government persecutes people because of their alleged sexual orientation, despite governmental assertions that homosexuality is not a crime. Fifty defendants are on trial-with an upcoming September 7 hearing in Cairo-on charges of "debauchery" and two additional men are serving hard labor sentences, having been convicted of "contempt of religion."

"The decision refutes a key claim of the Egyptian government-- that consensual sexual conduct between men is not criminalized in Egyptian law," stated Scott Long, Program Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), and official observer at the first wave of trials in Cairo. "The international community must now recognize that the legislation Egypt invokes in these cases violates basic human rights."

The recently released U.N. decision was adopted by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on June 21, 2002. The Working Group declared that "The detention of the above-mentioned persons prosecuted in the grounds that, by their sexual orientation, they incited 'social dissension' constitutes arbitrary deprivation of liberty" and called on Egypt to redress the situation and amend its legislation. The decision also represents a ground-breaking move by the Working Group in addressing issues of sexual orientation.

"We are deeply gratified by the courage and consistency the U.N. Working Group has shown," added Mr. Long, who met last April with the group's Chairman, Mr. Louis Joinet, as well as other U.N. representatives, and urged them to take action on this case. "They have set an important precedent, and advanced the record of the U.N. in fighting abuses based on sexual orientation."

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is composed of five independent experts, that report to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. Some of its independent experts are from Algeria, France, Hungary, and Paraguay. They represent their own expert opinions and not the official views of their countries. For more information on the Working Group, see http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu6/2/fs26.htm

The Working Group's decision referred to a case commonly known in the press as "the Cairo 52," in which 52 men were arrested on or around the night of May 10/11, 2001. They were tortured in detention, and jailed continuously until their trial. (For more information on procedural irregularities and abuses surrounding the trial, see IGLHRC's Fact Sheet, "Egyptian Justice on Trial: The Case of the Cairo 52," at http://www.iglhrc.org/world/africa/Egypt2001Oct.html)

The verdicts were handed down on November 14, 2001, at a hearing attended by a representative of IGLHRC, among others. Twenty-one defendants were convicted of the "habitual practice of debauchery" under Article 9(c) of Law 10/1961 (on the Combat of Prostitution). One defendant was convicted of "contempt for religion" under Article 98f of the Penal Code. Another defendant, accused of being the "ringleader," was convicted of both charges and received the heaviest sentence, five years of hard labor.

In late May, the State Security Office for the Ratification of Verdicts--an arm of the Egyptian presidency which is the only possible review for decisions of Emergency State Security Courts--cancelled the court decisions in the 50 cases involving the "habitual practice of debauchery." The grounds were that this crime did not merit trial before the repressive special courts. The convictions of the two defendants for "contempt of religion" were upheld.

All but those two--including all the defendants previously acquitted-- now face a second trial.

For additional background information and an updated action alert, see:
http://www.iglhrc.org/world/africa/Egypt2002Jun_2.html