The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights condemned in a statement Saturday the circumstances and procedures followed when on 7 December 2014 the police arrested 26 people in a public bathhouse in the Ramsis area of Cairo on charges of engaging in “perversion.” EIPR called for a fair trial for the defendants, whose case will begin before a Cairo court tomorrow, Sunday.
While this incident constitutes a grave breach of the right to privacy, it appears to be part of an orchestrated security campaign carried out by the police’s vice crimes directorate, with the support of several media outlets, against homosexuals or others with socially unacceptable sexual preferences. Mona al-Iraqi, the host of the television program “Hidden,” announced on 7 December on the program’s social media pages her role in exposing “the den of group perversion,” noting that she had notified the police about those frequenting the bathhouse.
This is the biggest mass arrest on such charges since the trial of dozens of defendants in 2001 in what was known as the Queen Boat case.
The arrest entailed the flagrant violation of several provisions of the constitution and laws. Police allowed the media to be present during the arrest and film the defendants. The footage, billed as a news exclusive, was then aired and used to smear the arrestees, which constitutes a violation of the right to privacy and is a breach of the confidentiality of preliminary investigations, a principle upheld in Article 75 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. That article states that investigation procedures and preliminary findings are confidential, and it requires investigating judges, prosecutors and clerks, experts, and others involved in the investigation by dint of their profession or position not to disclose details of the investigation, making it a crime punishable under Article 310 of the Penal Code. In addition, police did not permit arrestees to contact relatives or lawyers immediately upon arrest, a breach of Article 54 of the constitution. This meant that most of the defendants were unable to have their lawyers present to represent them during questioning.
EIPR estimates that over the last 18 months, more than 150 people have been arrested on charges of debauchery. Although there are no accurate conviction figures in such cases, some have been convicted and sentenced to up to nine years in prison. Most of the cases have been in the Cairo and Giza governorates, but EIPR has documented similar cases in the governorates of Alexandria, Red Sea, and Ismailiya as well.
EIPR condemns police practices during the arrest campaigns targeting citizens suspected of questionable sexual preferences in this period. These include spying on individuals, establishing fake social media accounts and using them to entrap and arrest individuals, detaining persons for their demeanor or clothing in public places, searching the phone contacts of arrested individuals to find friends and acquaintances, and using physical and sexual violence against detainees, most of which alleged they were subjected to violent beatings and forced haircuts as well as threats of sexual violence, which in some cases were carried out. EIPR stresses that the Interior Ministry should comply with human rights standards inside places of detention.
Just as EIPR condemns this security campaign, it is shocked by the unprofessional performance of several television channels and newspapers, which violated the most basic rights of the detainees. Some of these outlets aired the personal data of the arrestees while others filmed them without their consent and then published the images or video footage without concealing their faces to protect their identity. In addition, questions asked of them were designed to humiliate and insult them.
EIPR rejects claims of protecting the public from HIV/AIDS, advanced by both police and the media as justification for the violation of privacy and security harassment based on individuals’ alleged sexual preferences or practices. If the police truly feared the spread of the virus, they should not have seized condoms to be used as evidence against the arrestees since condoms are a means of prevention. EIPR is concerned about how a reproductive right—the right to be free of sexually transmitted diseases—has been dragged into this shameful campaign, along with the rights of those living with HIV to receive treatment and services without stigma or discrimination.
EIPR urges the Interior Ministry, and the vice crimes directorate in particular, to stop interfering in individuals’ private life, respect the privacy of personal practices, and enforce the constitution, which upholds the right to privacy. It also demands that the defendants arrested in the bathhouse incident be provided with due process guarantees and that lawyers be permitted to see the case files, which thus far has been denied. EIPR also urges the administration of the channel that carries “Hidden” to investigate the program host for her breach of professional ethics, after she used the media to accuse citizens without proof and used their private lives to defame and libel them.