Saturday, July 27, 2002

Egypt Gay Trial Delayed Again Newscenter - July 27

(Cairo) The new trial for fifty young Egyptian men accused of gay crimes was postponed moments after it began Friday, when defence lawyers said they needed more time to prepare.

The retrial had been ordered by President Hosni Mubarak.

23 of the men had been convicted of "debauchery" and the others found not guilty in a trial before a state security court that ended last November. The court was set up to deal with terrorism and other crimes against the state.

Mubarak however upheld the prison verdicts against the two main defendants who ran the club. Sherif Farahat and Mahmud Ahmed Allam were sentenced to five and three years respectively for "scorning religion." Farahat was also charged with "sexual practices contrary to Islam."

The men had all been arrested in May 2001 in a gay club on a Nile riverboat.

The new trial was to have begun last month but the judge recused himself on the grounds he had officiated at the original trial. Mubarak ordered the trial to be held in a criminal court saying the case did not fall under the jurisdiction of the State Security Court.

None of the defendants were in court Friday as presiding judge Hassan al-Sayess heard lawyers arguments. al-Sayess set a trial date of September 7 to begin proceedings.

Mubarak's government had been under pressure from western countries and international civil rights groups to pardon all those originally arrested.

A group of American congressmen, led by Rep. Barney Frank (D Mass) had sent a series of strongly worded letters to the Egyptian government and in February, French President Jacques Chirac expressed his "concern" to Mubarak in Paris in February and "wished, without wanting to interfere, that the decision would be rescinded".

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International twice demanded the release of the defendants, an investigation into allegations of torture during their detention, and respect for sexual orientation.

The Canadian government has sent a diplomat from its Cairo embassy to monitor the trial.

Scott Long, of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission remains sceptical. Long said it is a travesty of justice to retry the men already found not guilty.

"But dragging the convicted men into the humiliation of a new trial--while placing 29 acquitted men under the renewed threat of imprisonment--can only sully that image further."


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