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Egypt acquits 26 suspected ‘gay’ men in trial over bathhouse raid

Men who were arrested in a televised raid last month by police looking for gays at a Cairo public bathhouse, hide their faces after an Egyptian court acquitted them in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015.
Men who were arrested in a televised raid last month by police looking for gays at a Cairo public bathhouse, hide their faces after an Egyptian court acquitted them in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Amr Nabil, AP

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The acquittal came less than a month after an appeals court reduced prison sentences from three years to one for eight men convicted of “inciting debauchery” for appearing in an alleged same-sex wedding video. Rights activists say 2014 was the worst year in a decade for Egypt’s gay community, with at least 150 men arrested or put on trial.

Activists also say that by cracking down on gays, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s government seeks to boost its credentials as a protector of morals and religious values in a perceived rivalry with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.

During the case, pro-government media have whipped up reports of alleged threats to society from outsiders, whether foreign plotters, homosexuals, atheists or devil worshippers.

One of the defendants’ attorneys, Ahmed Hossam, said the media “convicted” the defendants before they even set foot in court.

Because there are no laws criminalizing homosexuality in Egypt, a decades’ old law criminalizing prostitution is often used in penalizing the gay community. The trial opened only two weeks after the raid on the bathhouse – an usually quick referral by the general prosecutor.

Five of the defendants – the owner of the bathhouse and four staff members – were tried for facilitating debauchery in exchange for money.

In the official charges, the prosecutor claimed the investigation revealed the owner and the staff ran the bathhouse as a place for “parties of debauchery, orgies among male homosexuals in exchange for money.”

The rest of the defendants were charged with practicing debauchery and “indecent public acts.”

The lawyers representing some of the defendants said their clients faced an unprecedented ordeal while in hands of security authorities, mainly because of the stigma associated with being suspected as a gay in Egypt.

Hossam, the lawyer, also criticized the police for subjecting the defendants to an “inhuman” forensic investigation that produced a “vague and incomplete” report that cited “scratches” as indication of possible homosexual activity.

“These men lost everything,” said Hossam, who represented 14 of the defendants. “Even with acquittal, this conservative, regressive society will continue to scorn them. Their lives and their families have been shattered.”

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Marriage News Watch: January 12, 2015

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