African and South African activists are showing their solidarity with LGBTI Egyptians who have been subjected to a wave of arrests and hate.
The activists are joining a campaign that will include global protests in different cities and online on October 19.
Pan Africa ILGA (PAI) said it stands in solidarity with a host of local, regional and international groups in condemning “these unwarranted arrests and attacks as human rights violations, especially the right to freedom of expression in Egypt.”
PAI added its support to a statement issued by activists in Egypt and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region calling “for human rights organisations, civil society, the international community, journalists, media experts, lawyers and all individuals who are interested in protecting human rights values to join their voices to ours…”
The statement continues: “We remind the Egyptian state of its important responsibility of protecting the security of Egyptian citizens and guaranteeing the freedom of speech and expression as stated by the Egyptian Constitution and International Conventions.”
The groups also called on media organisations “to respect the values of professionalism during their coverage and defend human rights and avoid hate speech and demeaning terminology against Egyptian citizens, and refrain from giving a space to sources who intentionally spread fear and hate.”
Background to the crackdown
The arrests were sparked by the waving of rainbow flags at a concert by a Lebanese band, Mashrou’ Leila, in Cairo on Friday, 22 September.
This led to a homophobic campaign by the local media, which published several pieces across news and social media platforms inciting hate speech against members of the LGBTI community in Egypt.
In addition to raids on the homes of LGBTI individuals, some have been arrested off the streets simply based on their perceived sexuality while others have been entrapped by the morality police via gay dating apps and websites.
More than 56 individuals and counting have been arrested on charges such as “inciting immorality” and engaging in acts of “debauchery”. Other charges faced include aiming “to disrupt the provisions of the Constitution and the law through inciting ‘deviancy’.”
According to local activists, detainees lack easy access to lawyers and have experienced ill treatment, invasive medical examinations, deprivation from food, denial of family visits and police officers encouraging harassment by other prisoners
Political parties and community leaders have supported the homophobic media campaign and members of parliament and Al-Azhar religious scholars are pressuring the state to end “attempts to corrupt the youth.”
A number of individuals have already been prosecuted and found guilty and 15 defendants have received prison sentences, ranging from six months to six years in jail.
LGBTI activists from Egypt and the region stated that the arrests follow “the escalating violent attempts to suppress and divide civil society organisations, restrict their resources, and increase security measures to silence advocates for human rights and freedom of speech and expression in Egypt.”
They added that, “the Egyptian state and media have exceeded all expectations in spreading fear, discrimination and encouraging hate speech inciting Egyptian citizens against each other.”
In a statement, the signatories said: “The state has no right to interfere in the private lives of people, except in cases involving violence, minors or non-consensual acts.
“While the police continue to hunt down dozens of gay people, or men who have sex with other men, using vague legal provisions to punish individuals who have not committed any crimes, the judicial system has failed to invest the equivalent amount of effort into investigating and prosecuting cases of female circumcision, child marriage and domestic violence, all of which are serious crimes committed against hundreds of thousands of girls and women each year.”
Egyptian anti-LGBTI laws
While Egypt has no law against or ban on homosexuality or cross-dressing in its criminal code, the law of “debauchery” directly criminalises sexual relations between men.
Criminal sanctions against gay and bisexual men also arise from a supplemental law combating prostitution and debauchery. Since 2000, these laws have formed the basis of a systematic crackdown on gay or bisexual men and anyone deemed to support LGBTI rights, with the “Public Order and Public Morals” code increasingly used to criminalise homosexuality.
Through its actions, Egypt is in contravention of its own Constitution as well as various international human rights instruments which it has undertaken to uphold through ratification.
A day of action
PAI, in collaboration with other South African and African human rights groups, is in the process of planning protests in a show of solidarity with the Egyptian LGBTI community and their allies who will be protesting in different cities worldwide on October 19.
Join the online protest in solidarity with the Egyptian LGBTI community and make use of the hashtags: #ColorsRNotShame #RainbowIsNotCrime #ThisIsEgypt. Send your organisation or group’s logo to email@example.com to be added as a supporter.
You can also make your voice heard by signing this petition drawn up by activists from Egypt and the MENA region.