Cairo police have arrested four more men suspected of having HIV, bringing to 12 the number of men arrested in a bizarre campaign against people police suspect of being HIV-positive or gay.
Four of the 12 have already been sentenced to a year in jail and eight are still in custody. Amnesty International and Human Rights on Friday called on Egyptian authorities to respect the men’s human rights and to immediately release them so as not to cause lasting damage to the country’s HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.
“In their misguided attempt to apply Egypt’s unjust law on homosexual conduct, authorities are carrying on a crackdown against people living with HIV/AIDS,” said Rebecca Schleifer, advocate for the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.
“This not only violates the most basic rights of people living with HIV. It also threatens public health, by making it dangerous for anyone to seek information about HIV prevention or treatment.”
The most recent arrests occurred after police followed up on information coerced from men already in detention, according to the Health and Human Rights Program of the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
Two of the newly detained men tested positive for HIV. One had his detention extended by 15 days at his February 12 court hearing, with the prosecutor and the judge both claiming he was a danger to public health. Another has a hearing scheduled for February 23.
As in all previous cases, authorities forced the new detainees to undergo HIV testing without their consent. All those testing positive have been held in Cairo hospitals, chained to their beds.
“Arbitrary arrests, forcible HIV tests, and physical abuse only add to the disgraceful record of Egypt’s criminal justice system, where torture and ill-treatment are greeted with impunity,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
The wave of arrests began in October 2007, when police intervened between two men having an argument on a street in central Cairo. When one of them told the officers that he was HIV-positive, police immediately took them both to the Morality Police office and opened an investigation against them for homosexual conduct. Police demanded the names of their friends and sexual contacts during interrogations.
The two men told lawyers that officers slapped and beat them for refusing to sign statements the police wrote for them. The men spent four days in the Morality Police office handcuffed to an iron desk, and were left to sleep on the floor. Police later subjected the two men to forensic anal examinations designed to “prove” that they had engaged in homosexual conduct.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have urged the Egyptian authorities to immediately cease any arrests based on people’s real or suspected HIV status. In addition to seeking the release of all 12 men, the two organisations also called on authorities to end the practice of chaining detainees to their hospital beds, and to ensure that the men receive the highest available standard of medical care for any serious health conditions.
The two organisations urged Egypt to undertake training for all criminal-justice officials on medical facts and international human rights standards in relation to HIV, and to halt immediately all testing of detainees without their consent.