In the second hearing of the so-called “Ramses bathhouse” case on Sunday, defense lawyers argued that the arrest of the 26 defendants was unconstitutional, the charges of debauchery and indecent public acts levied against them were “vague,” and finally requested more time to investigate evidence presented by the prosecution.
On December 8, dozens of men were arrested in a bathhouse in downtown Cairo’s Ramses area at the behest of television host Mona al-Iraqi, who filmed the ensuing security raid. Iraqi, a presenter on “Al-Mestakhabi” (The Hidden), an investigative journalism show that broadcasts on the privately owned channel Al-Qahera wal Nas, wrote on her Facebook page that she and her team had been investigating the bathhouse, alleging it was a “den of illegal gay sex workers.”
Since then, 21 alleged clients of the bathhouse, the facility’s 60-year-old owner and five purported staff members have been held in custody. The defendants have denied all charges.
The trial began on December 21, but was adjourned until Sunday after a brief and chaotic 10-minute hearing, according to gay rights activist and writer Scott Long, who has been following the case on his blog, the Paper Bird.
Long was in attendance at Sunday’s session. As at the first hearing, family members of the defendants were mistreated by security forces and prevented from entering the court room, he told Mada Masr.
He described the defense’s arguments as appropriately aggressive. He said defense lawyers were building their case on the argument that the men’s arrest was unconstitutional due to Iraqi’s presence at the security raid, and her subsequent circulation of video and photos that revealed their identities.
The case was clearly political in nature and built for the media, reflecting the mounting alliance between pro-government journalists and police forces, Long argued.
“It is not a case based on evidence or facts. It is a case based on Mona al-Iraqi attempting to get ratings,” he concluded.
Cairo-based journalist Sara al-Sirgani was also in attendance at Sunday’s session.
It is still unclear how the case will evolve and what its outcome will be, she told Mada.
She clarified that the defense’s argument hinges on Article 25 of the Constitution guaranteeing dignified treatment for detainees, which lawyers argue was violated by Iraqi’s presence at their arrest.
As evidence, the prosecution presented forensic reports based on physical examinations of the defendants that attempt to prove which of the men have engaged in anal intercourse, and how recently — findings that the defense has contested.
However, the Egyptian Penal Code has no express laws against such sexual acts or against homosexuality, and it is unclear what evidence the prosecution has offered to back the actual criminal charges of debauchery and public indecency.
According to the Egypt-based Associated Press correspondent Sara al-Deeb, who tweeted from Sunday’s hearing, the only witness for the prosecution so far is a police officer present at the raid in early December, who claimed that gay men regularly hold orgies in that bathhouse.
“Police report details which defendants were engaged in what sexual positions during the raid,” she tweeted, drawing attention to the implausibility that the witness would be able to recall and document details differentiating between and incriminating each of the 26 defendants arrested in the raid.
The case was adjourned until Monday to give the defense team more time to review the prosecution’s claims that the phone number of one of the defendants was found on an adult website.
The trial is the latest in a string of criminal cases brought against gay and transgender Egyptians.
Last week two transgender women were arrested on charges of prostitution and posting inappropriate sexual content on the internet, while in November, eight men were sentenced to three years in jail for filming a purported gay marriage ceremony. The video went viral on social media, and showed two men in suits exchanging rings, singing and celebrating with friends.
Last April, three men were sentenced to eight years in prison on perversion charges for allegedly wearing women’s clothes, wigs and fake breasts.