A scene from the alleged wedding video
Human Rights Watch has called on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release seven men arrested for allegedly “inciting debauchery.”
Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat ordered the men detained and “physically examined” on September 6 after an online video emerged showing the men attending what appeared to be a gay wedding ceremony on a Nile riverboat. Earlier reports indicated that nine men had been arrested in connection with the video.
The arrests are the latest of a long line of cases in which Egyptian authorities have persecuted men suspected of homosexual conduct. In the most recent convictions, in April, four men were sentenced to up to eight years in prison.
“Over the years, Egyptian authorities have repeatedly arrested, tortured, and detained men suspected of consensual homosexual conduct,” commented Graeme Reid, Director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch.
“These arrests represent another assault on fundamental human rights and reflect the Egyptian government’s growing disdain for the rule of law,” he said.
In a statement announcing the arrests, the prosecutor general’s office accused the men of broadcasting footage that “violates public decency,” and urged investigators to quickly refer the suspects to trial, “to protect social values and mete out justice.”
The state news agency said that authorities are still searching for two men allegedly involved in the incident, which they have described as a “devilish shameless party.”
One of the men involved in the incident reportedly phoned in to an Egyptian television news program to deny that he was homosexual or that the filmed event was a gay marriage. He said the publication of the video, on YouTube, had made him afraid to appear in public.
The arrested suspects were subjected to forensic anal examinations — a procedure which the Egyptian authorities have used repeatedly in cases of alleged homosexual conduct — and which violates international standards against torture, said Human Rights Watch.
In the past, those subjected to the examinations in Egypt said they were forced to bend over while a government doctor working for the police massaged their buttocks and examined and sometimes probed their anus.
“Findings” from such examinations have been used in court, though experts have dismissed them as medically and scientifically useless in determining whether consensual anal sex has taken place.
Hisham Abdel Hamid, a spokesman for the Health Ministry’s Forensic Medical Authority, announced on September 8 that, based on results of the forensic anal exams, the men were “not homosexuals.”
Egypt does not explicitly criminalise same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults, but same-sex marriage is not legal, and authorities have routinely arrested people suspected of engaging in consensual homosexual conduct on charges of “debauchery.”
The UN Committee Against Torture, in its 2002 review of Egypt, investigated the issue of forensic anal examinations and called on the government “to prevent all degrading treatment on the occasion of body searches.”
Human Rights Watch linked the gay-related arrests to other recent human rights abuses in the country. In the 14 months since President Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the military, at least 22,000 Egyptians have been arrested, many of them for expressing political dissent.
One Egyptian non-governmental organisation has documented over 41,000 arrests or indictments in the same period. Authorities have held many detainees without charge or trial for months, amid mounting reports of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees.
“Egyptian authorities should immediately end the practice of arbitrarily arresting and torturing adults who are privately engaged in consensual sexual relations,” Reid said. “These latest arrests are an ominous indication that President al-Sisi’s government will show no greater respect for the rights of vulnerable groups than its predecessors.”