Film festival fires TV reporter who led police arrests at ‘gay bathhouse’

The Swiss-based International Short Film Festival (Shnit) announced it has immediately dismissed the Egyptian TV reporter, Mona Iraqi, from its foundation in light of her recent reportage on a “gay bathhouse” in downtown Cairo, which resulted in the arrests of 26 men who she alleges are homosexuals, infected with AIDS, prostitutes and/or sex traffickers.  

From Bern, the organizers of this film festival issued an online statement on Tuesday announcing that they “completely distance from and condemn the practices – professional and ethical – employed by Mona Iraqi as a TV reporter.” The statement added, “These practices are at utter odds with the principles of the Shnit International Short Film Festival.”

Shnit claims that amongst their goals is “maintaining a passionate stance against aggression, racism, homophobia, discrimination or violence.”

Shnit also moved to sack Iraqi from her management post at their Cairo branch, or “playground,” as they refer to their franchises.

Their statement added that the Swiss-based foundation would continue their work in Cairo “under new management and in line with the values of respect, tolerance, and artistic expression without prejudice, for which Shnit has always stood.”

This decision was taken by the Shnit Foundation’s Board of Trustees in the Swiss capital on Monday, December 22. It follows heated debates on social media networks regarding the extent of Iraqi’s professionalism, or lack thereof. While one of Shnit’s Cairo-based staff members defended Iraqi on Twitter, many web users described this Egyptian TV reporter as being a police informer, homophobe, hate-monger, and a sensationalist spin-doctor.

Iraqi led and helped organize the police raid on the Bab al-Bahr Bathhouse in downtown Cairo’s Ramses district, on December 1, to coincide with World AIDS Day.

Nonetheless, Iraqi uploaded one of these episodes on December 10 on YouTube. On her show “Al-Mesthkabi” (The Hidden) on the private TV channel Al-Qahera Wal Nas, Iraqi begins her episode by warning Egyptians of the dangers of AIDS, accompanied by eerie threatening music in the background.

However, neither Iraqi nor the police have been able to prove that any of the 26 men arrested at the Ramses bathhouse are gay – or HIV positive. A trial of these defendants is underway, and their session has been adjourned until January 4.

While a host of local media outlets carried snippets and segments of Iraqi’s controversial reportage, independent outlets like Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed criticized her coverage and referred to her as a member of the club of “Informers Without Borders.”

On her Facebook page, Iraqi posted several messages expressing pride in the novelty of a woman filming a crackdown on a male prostitution ring – as opposed to males filming the arrest of female prostitutes.

On her social networking accounts, Iraqi posts pictures of herself filming police forces as they drive out men without clothes, except for the towels around their waists, into the cold street where they are arrested and transported to detention.

Although the courts have not yet issued a verdict against the 26 defendants, Iraqi was quick to issue her own judgments. In both her coverage and her posts, the TV reporter alleges that the security crackdown was justified due to health concerns.

Iraqi posted several comments claiming that the bathhouse was a “den of perversion” for acts of “sex trafficking” and “gay group sex” amongst both Egyptian and foreign men.

On her Facebook account Iraqi defended her coverage, along with the arrests of 26 men, on the following basis: “I worked on such case for one reason, which was sex trafficking in a public place.” Iraqi added that she doesn’t have an issue against homosexuality.

Iraqi went on to claim, “Egyptian authorities conducted their investigation and the prosecution obtained a confession from some of the suspects which is an evidence of committing the crime, and the case now is in the process of receiving a court judgment, which affirms that there is a crime of sex trafficking.”

The reporter concluded, “Actions taken in such case, either by me or by authorities, cannot be considered as a breach of human rights law, since they were taken to prevent a crime that even western countries prohibit by law.”

Twitter user Georges Azzi criticized Iraqi’s argument pertaining to the arrest of the 26 men. “They arrested the people who were being trafficked? How does that make sense?” he asked.

This user questioned who the real culprits are and why Iraqi believes that arrests, trials and public humiliation protects the victims of male prostitution, or sex trafficking.


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