Thursday, September 25, 2003

Egypt police arrest 62 suspected gay men

From / Network

In yet another massive crackdown, police in Egypt arrested 62 men from a well-known gay cruising area, booking each of the men on charges of "debauchery," a euphemism for homosexuality.

According to a communication received by the Al Fatiha Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based organization for queer Muslims, the arrests at the Qasr el-Nil bridge took place on Aug. 28 and were shrouded in secrecy.

Maher Sabry, an Egyptian human rights activist, said in his letter to Al Fatiha that -- in contrast to the sensational publicity given to the "Cairo 52" who were arrested two years ago -- there was no Egyptian press coverage this time around.

Also, the 62 men were charged individually with the habitual practice of debauchery and given individual case-numbers, as opposed to the group charges leveled at the "Cairo 52."

According to eyewitness accounts, police had paddy wagons parked at either end of Qasr el-Nil bridge, which spans the Nile in downtown Cairo and is a popular gay cruising area, and then policemen and informants combed the entire bridge. They began questioning, checking identification and picking up those whom they found suspicious. By the time they converged in the center of the bridge, they had rounded up a total 62 men.

The arrested men told their lawyers that when they reached the wagons, the policemen shouted to the onlookers in Arabic, "Look at these faggots! The country's become full of faggots!"

The 62 arrested men were shepherded to Qasr el-Nil police station and reportedly forced to sign confessions of their debauchery. After three days in jail, the prosecutor's office released them on a guarantee of their addresses. The hearings are scheduled in November or December.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who has been in the lead to stop gay persecution in Egypt, has made it clear that building support for a crucial U.S.-Egypt free trade agreement hinges upon improving the political environment for gays in Egypt.

Commenting on the latest arrests, Daniel McGlinchey, foreign policy aide for the congressman, told the Network that Frank was to have met President Mubarak's senior adviser, but the meeting was postponed because of the Mideast situation.

McGlinchey said, "He would have told Mubarak's adviser the same thing he is going to tell senior Egyptian business leaders ? at a meeting next week. That is, if they want to help improve the political environment that would be necessary to advance various business interests -- building up support for a US-Egypt free trade agreement -- then they have to tell their contacts and colleagues in Egypt that this continued campaign of persecution must stop, as it goes exactly counter to those goals."

Scott Long, lawyer and senior Middle East expert and gay issues researcher at the Washington-based Human Rights Watch, said the latest arrests were not a new phenomenon but part of an established police witch hunt of marginalized LGBT people.

"There have been instances when police would just stroll and pick up gays, as many as 150 people in one go. Because of the international condemnation that followed the 'Queenboat 52' arrests two years back, it's now in the government interest to hush-up such arrests," Long told the Network.

He said the latest crackdown adds up to 14 cases where people have faced sentences and another 150 cases in which a verdict is still awaited. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," Long said.