Egypt court acquits 11 suspected gay men
An Egyptian judge in Cairo acquitted 11 men on charges of debauchery -- a euphemism for homosexual activity -- but shamed them for their "sin" and said he would not have set them free had it not been for procedural issues, the Associated Press reported.
The judge, named Mo'azer El-Marsafy, condemned the men after a three-member panel cleared them of criminal charges on Saturday.
"We are so disgusted with you, we can't even look at you," the A.P. reported the judge as saying. "What you did is a major sin, but unfortunately the case has procedural errors and the court had to acquit all of you.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the acquittals as a "step forward," while regretting that harassment and arrests of gay men continue as usual.
"Men remain imprisoned in Egypt for private acts, in a continuing crackdown which violates international law," said Scott Long, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Long recalled the 11 men were among the 16 who were charged in February 2003, when police tapped the phone of an apartment in greater Cairo after an informer reported that the owner was visited by other men.
Long, who was in Cairo until recently, said police had arrested the 11 men whose recorded phone conversations suggested that they had engaged in homosexual acts. They were charged with the "habitual practice of debauchery," punishable by up to three years of prison.
Faisal Alam, founder of Al Fatiha, a Washington, D.C.-based body for queer Muslims, regretted what he called Egyptian defiance of international pressure over gay rights. He said Egyptian men were living in virtual terror.
"Web sites and Internet activities are being monitored to nab gay men. Police spies lure and arrest men off the Internet almost on a daily basis. Common folks are routinely picked up off the cruising areas such as the street and public parks," Alam said.
Alam pointed out that just a couple of years ago Egypt was on the forefront of "gay liberation" in the Middle East. "But today, under Muslim extremists' pressure, the gay community has been held hostage."
The latest acquittals coincide with the second anniversary of the start of the infamous trial of the "Queen Boat 52," arrested on a floating nightclub in May 2001. That case became a battle cry for international human rights groups, and 29 of the accused were freed but 21 sentenced.
Under world pressure Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak (news - web sites) had ordered a retrial of all the 52, which resulted in harsher sentences for the 21 convicted earlier.