The Trap: Punishing Sexual Difference in Egypt

In this report, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, documents a four-year period in which Egyptian police have escalated a targeted crackdown on people whose sexualities or sexual practices, actual or perceived, differ from those considered normative in Egyptian society. Especially if they were homosexual or men who practice sex with men, or those suspected as such, or transgender persons. It is the campaign which reached its climax last month, with the arrest of more than 75 people against the backdrop of the ‘waving the rainbow flag’ incident. The flag known as a symbol of diversity and accepting different sexual orientation and gender identities, was waved during a concert in one of the malls in Cairo.

The report tries to clarify that the late campaign, which garnered the attention of International Rights NGOs and global media, is nothing but a link in the systematic targeting that this report is trying to document.

The average number of individuals arrested and referred to court per year in cases like these, rose from the last quarter of 2013 onwards, reaching almost five times the average number of arrests in previous years. In the period from October 2013 to March 2017, the total number of people arrested and prosecuted in such cases has reached 232 people — an average of 66 people per year — a figure far exceeding the figure of 189 individuals, with an average of 14 people per year in the 13 years prior to the start of the crackdown (2000-2013).

This report follows the journey of some of those arrested, from entrapment to imprisonment, in order to analyse the patterns of this security campaign against those considered to have non-normative sexualities. The report also analyses the roles of different actors in the criminal justice system, including the police, prosecution and Courts of Appeal, as well as the legal loopholes employed by this campaign and the way in which it violates a number of established legal and constitutional principles.

The report relies mostly on a legal analysis of 25 cases, testimonies from individuals detained in the crackdown and interviews with their family members and lawyers who specialize in such cases. It also examines Egyptian media coverage, not only of the crackdown on LGBTQ individuals, but also of incidents of blackmail, theft and what might be considered hate crimes against gay men and transgender women.

The appendices of the report include a number of testimonies from individuals arrested, accused and formerly imprisoned, in cases of “habitual practice of debauchery”1. As well as statistics of the legal cases and the media coverage that accompanies it, and examples of the defence memos. In addition to, the text of law no. 10 for the year 1961, criminalizing prostitution, who’s vague and confused articles are used against individual who profess sexual difference, for the sake of accusing of them with “habitual practice of debauchery” or publishing material that incite it.

Cairo occupies the first place with the highest incidence of targeting of those who are LGBTQ or perceived as such, a total of 128 arrests during the three-and-a-half year period covered in the study. The neighbouring governorate of Giza was second with 73 arrests, followed by Alexandria with 26 arrests, the Red Sea with 11 arrests, then Ismailia and Damietta with two arrests in each governorate and finally Qalyubiya where one arrest was documented.

The cases covered in the report point to three main strategies and practices used by the General Directorate for Protecting Public Morality (referred to as Morality Police throughout) within the Ministry of Interior. The first and most common strategy is the entrapment of individuals, especially transgender women, through fake accounts on LGBTQ dating websites and applications. The second strategy is the deportation of gay or trans foreign nationals or those perceived to be as such, even when practice of habitual debauchery charges are not upheld. The third is the creation of major sex scandals that receive exceptional media attention.

The report criticizes the general prosecution’s bias and its deputy prosecutors preconceived positions towards defendants in these cases. In 23 cases the general prosecution charged the defendants with accusations pertaining to law no. 10. We found that the most recurrent accusations were “habitual practice of debauchery”, which was listed in all cases, followed by, accusation of advertising material that incites debauchery on the internet, in 14 cases. And lastly, eight cases that included accusation of running a house, locale, residence for debauchery purposes or inciting it. The report’s legal analysis and explanations of the practices of prosecution, the courts, and Forensic Medicine Authority demonstrate the confusion around legal definitions of the articles used to level out these charges. And how it resorts to unscientific and objectionable means, according to International Law, when examining the defendants and subjecting them to those humiliating methods. And finally the report also highlights the luring of the defendants financially, which in itself constitutes an incitement charge according to the law.

The way that most news websites covers incidents of arrest of LGBTQ individuals creates a state of moral panic in society. The method used, through which LGBTQ individuals are demonized, defamed and represented as subhuman, includes sensationalist, exaggerated headlines such as, “The capture of the largest ring of sexual deviants”. The media also uses terms, that are morally charged and that denigrates arrested LGBTQ individuals and strips away their dignity (referring to them as, ‘sexual deviants’, ‘third sex’, or associating them with ‘drugs’). This coverage portrays those individuals as such, identifying them as a threat to the moral fabric of society, depicting them as violent and representing a danger to citizens. This is especially so for individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

The report concludes that the expanded use of Law 10/1961 to criminalize consensual sexual activity between adults, only because such practices go against societal norms, is a clear violation of the individuals’ right to privacy and the freedom to undertake whichever choices pertain to their sexuality. The report offers the following recommendations:

  • For the police to stop luring and trapping individuals through applications and private dating websites through financial solicitation.
  • To hold accountable all police personnel who are allegedly involved in the beating, insulting and humiliating of arrested individuals in such cases, as well as threatening them with sexual assault.
  • Prohibit the press and media from photographing those arrested and violating their privacy and publishing information and details of their personal lives.
  • To cease criminalizing the possession of beauty products, women’s clothing, condoms and other objects whose possession is not deemed a crime in of itself and cannot be represented as evidence.
  • To prohibit forced anal examinations.
  • To allow sufficient time for lawyers to examine arrest and investigation reports.

1-All the names mentioned in the report, are aliases as requested by those interviewed and to safeguard their safety