The Azbakeya Misdemeanors Court acquitted on Monday 26 defendants accused of debauchery and indecent public acts in the “Ramses bathhouse” case.
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. The defendants included 21 clients of the bathhouse, the facility’s 60-year-old owner and five purported staff members.
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.”
Human rights activists and social media users lambasted Iraqi’s Facebook report, condemning the journalist’s cooperation with police forces as a flagrant violation of citizens’ personal rights.
Scott Long, a gay rights activist and author of the Paper Bird blog, told Mada Masr he is “shocked,” by the verdict, adding that no one expected it.
He believes that the outrage over the way Iraqi handled the case is what may have pushed the judge to look beyond the police reports and look for the facts.
Long hopes that the verdict will send a message to the police that “it’s time to end these kinds of arrests,” as well as to the judges that they focus on the evidence at hand.
Ahmed Hossam, a member of the defense team told Mada Masr, that this is the first court ruling of its kind that implements the law and guarantees the defendants’ rights, referring to other similar cases where defendants were convicted.
The prosecution had presented forensic reports based on physical examinations of the defendants in an attempt to prove that the men have engaged in homosexual activity. Human rights activists have condemned these tests, deeming them a violation of human rights.
According to the reports obtained by Mada Masr, only three defendants had wounds and bruises around the anus, the examinations showed.
However, Ahmed Hossam, part of the defense team, had told Mada Masr that these bruises and wounds could be a result of a number of diseases or a result of police assault on the defendants.
The remaining defendants had no bruises or wounds, the report said, adding however that this is possible “if both parties are careful and agree to use lubricants” during sexual intercourse.
Now, Hossam said, the defendants must be compensated for what happened, including their arrest, detention and trial, and Iraqi must be prosecuted.
Defense lawyer Tarek al-Awadi also told Mada Masr that he is waiting for the channel’s reaction, and unless it issues an apology and refers those working on the program to the prosecution for investigation, he will file a lawsuit against them.
“We know very well what rights and freedoms are,” he said. “There’s a right to express and exchange information but we have never heard of the right to taint people’s reputations or the right to libel and slander.”
The LGBT community in Egypt has long faced harsh oppression by both society and the state under former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, which has not been mitigated by the successive administrations that followed his ouster.
The Egyptian Penal Code has no explicit laws against homosexuality, but crackdowns on gay Egyptians have been carried out under the pretext of various vague laws such as “violating the teachings of religion” and “moral depravity.”
Last November, eight men were sentenced to three years in prison after they were filmed in what appeared to be a gay marriage ceremony that took place on a boat on the Nile. One of the two men seen exchanging rings in the video had explained that the party in the video was a birthday celebration and was misunderstood.
However, Long believes that there has been less outrage and opposition over this case, which may distinguish it from the bathhouse case.
“There wasn’t this kind of mobilization, and this attitude of ‘this has gone too far’,” he told Mada Masr.
Last April, three men were sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of debauchery and homosexual prostitution, and a fourth was sentenced to three years. The men were arrested in an apartment where, according to the prosecution, they were dressed in women’s clothing.
In one high-profile incident, commonly known as the “Queen Boat raid,” 52 men were accused of homosexual acts and were arrested on charges of debauchery in May 2001. 23 of them were sentenced to prison.
Long hopes the kind of public outrage over the bathhouse case will continue, pushing the police to end this kind of crackdown.