26 men charged with homosexual offenses acquitted by Egyptian court

Posted by Kate Barth on February 2, 2015

The last decade has witnessed many encouraging steps in the struggle for LGBTI rights with states increasingly decriminalizing consensual same-sex activity, extending recognition for gay marriage and recognizing transgendered individuals as vulnerable persons. However, we have by no means achieved a worldwide consensus on the issue; over 70 states still criminalize consensual non-heterosexual sexual activity.[1]  Such criminalization in and of itself stands as a direct violation of the basic human right to privacy, but even more troubling can be the secondary effects of discrimination engendered by such prohibitions. These laws encourage the stigmatization of LGBTI individuals (or persons suspected to be LGBTI), which in turn encourages aggressive policing, punishment and social ostracism.

One state with an ignominious history of respecting the rights of LGBTI individuals is Egypt, now notorious for its 2001 arrest of fifty-two men aboard the Queen Boat. These men were variously convicted of “habitual debauchery,” and “contempt of religion”. The case of the Queen Boat was also notable for its accusations of falsified evidence, improper arrest procedures and police intimidation. Ominously, a recent crackdown on a reputed gay bathhouse, in which 26 men were similarly charged with offenses related to homosexuality, mirrored some of the horrors of the Queen Boat arrest. In this case a television broadcaster named Mona Iraqi supposedly tipped off the police to a “gay sex party” occurring in the bathhouse, then filmed as the police dragged the men naked from the bathhouse. The detainees were given forcible anal exams to “prove” their homosexuality, before being thrown in jail where at least one of the detainees reports having been raped while the police ignored his cries for help. The officer who led the raid, Lt. Col Hashad, was also accused by lawyers of fabricating his testimony on, for example, the explicit sex acts he witnessed upon entering the bathhouse.

However, unlike the Queen Boat case, last December all 26 men were acquitted of the charges in a stunning triumph for rule of law in Egypt; according to Egyptian human rights activists the December acquittal was the first time that a trial court had acquitted men in a high-profile homosexuality case.[2] The courtroom reacted appropriately—by all accounts it exploded with the cheers of the accused, their families, and advocates. Moreover, the defense lawyers and families are in discussion about bringing charges against the Mona Iraqi and Lt. Col Hashad to hold them accountable for their roles in the raid.

While the acquittal must be a tremendous relief for those accused and a boost to the morale of human rights defenders in Egypt, it may be too soon to declare total victory. The prosecutor has filed an appeal to the acquittal and it’s unclear whether the defendants will remain in custody while the appeal is pending. More to the point, the men were simply acquitted of having engaged in homosexual offenses, but the offenses themselves remained valid and unquestioned by the court. Clearly, until the laws criminalizing homosexuality are struck from the books, LGBTI advocates will struggle to guarantee that the rights of LGBTI individuals are fully respected by the state.

For more information on this case, click here, here or here.


[1] http://76crimes.com/76-countries-where-homosexuality-is-illegal/

[2] http://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/men-charged-with-debauchery-in-egypt-were-raped-in-custody-l?utm_term=.wuLYBPqzZ#.ncbVp9rdw2

Kate Barth is a Legal Officer at Lawyers Collective