Egyptian authorities have pursued systematic efforts to entrap individuals for their sexuality on dating applications and websites over the past few years, starting in 2015, according to a report released by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) on Wednesday.
“It is no exaggeration to say they are targeting people,” said Dalia Abdel Hameed, a gender officer at EIPR and the main author of the report. “When dozens of people were arrested within the space of a week across the country following the Mashrou’ Leila concert in September, we wondered how they managed to do it so fast.”
It is the authorities’ ongoing campaign, documented in EIPR’s report “The Trap,” which enabled them to carry out the arrests so quickly, she explained. Undercover officers had been speaking with those arrested online, going back as far as July. “It’s like fishing with a net, and they draw in the net when they want.”
Led by the morality police, the crackdown has largely taken the form of entrapping people on applications and private dating websites, and for the most part people have been arrested one or two at a time. This approach is more common than mass arrests of LGBTQ individuals preceding the Mashrou’ Leila concert and its aftermath, notably the Ramses Bathhouse case in 2014 when 26 people were arrested.
Covering the period from October 2013 until March of this year, the report relies on a legal analysis of over 20 cases, including testimonies from the defendants, interviews with their families and with a number of lawyers who specialize in debauchery cases, as well an analysis of media coverage in the same period.
Abdel Hameed told Mada Masr that no official statistics are available, and getting hold of case files was difficult. She added that EIPR was able to gain access to a few of them through a network of lawyers who worked on the cases. “The media monitoring was very time consuming. Often the media coverage copies information from the police announcements, and these often aren’t accurate,” she added. “We only included reports we were 100 percent certain about, although we are sure that there are many cases we don’t know about.”
Finding people willing to talk also posed a challenge, she said, even in cases EIPR had been directly involved in. “Some people are traumatized and don’t want to talk. For others, they don’t identify themselves as gay and aren’t necessarily comfortable with conversations about sexuality.”
Typically, police officers use fake accounts to converse with individuals who are often encouraged to share pictures of themselves. These pictures, along with transcripts of the chats, are presented as evidence. Objects such as wigs, makeup and condoms are also usually presented as evidence. The EIPR report notes that the possession of condoms as evidence conflicts with HIV/AIDS prevention efforts and suggests a lack of coordination between different ministries, as this tactic “compels people whose sexual orientation is not accepted by society to give up an essential protection method for fear of arrest.”
The Trap also notes the trend of deporting foreign nationals accused of debauchery, even if charges are not upheld or the case does go to court. The report documents the case of a Libyan refugee deported in 2014, who was forced to sign a document stating that he was leaving Egypt and forgoing his refugee status of his own free will.
Defendants face abusive and humiliating treatment at the hands of the police, from the denial of visitation rights and insults to threats of sexual violence and beatings. Experiences with the prosecution were more varied, although the report notes that the prosecution regularly refers defendants to the Forensic Authority for forced anal examinations. Not only are these tests medically discredited, but they amount to a form of torture.
Most alarmingly, the report suggests, is an addendum found at the foot of most anal examination reports indicating that it is possible for individuals to practice anal sex without there being detectable signs. According to EIPR, this suggests that “those who carry them out appear to know that they are useless for generating evidence. […] As such, the only function of the anal examinations is to punish and humiliate the defendants in these cases.”
Most of the cases analysed involve debauchery charges, which fall under Law 10/1961 which criminalizes prostitution. The arrests violate a number of legal principles, from the entrapment of individuals by the police, which by law is a crime of incitement, to the prosecution bringing several charges against defendants for the same act.
Although court cases often beset with delays in Egypt’s overburdened court system and deferrals are common, debauchery cases move exceptionally fast. The average period from the moment of arrest to the appeal verdict in such cases is typically one or two months. This makes it particularly difficult for lawyers to challenge incidents of due process violation or the mistreatment of detainees.
The first instance verdicts issued in these cases are usually severe, as reflected by the high rate of sentences that are overturned or reduced on appeal. There was a consensus among lawyers that EIPR interviewed that these verdicts are more “often a reflection of society’s perception of these people and its desire to punish them for perceived non-normative sexualities.”
In the section of the report analysing media coverage, EIPR states that the media has played a significant role in the ongoing campaign. There are instances in which journalists have played a direct role in targeting people for their sexuality. Most notable was television presenter Mona Iraqi’s participation in a raid on Bab al-Bahr bathhouse, and talk show host Tamer Amin’s televised calls in 2014 for the police to arrest those who appeared in a YouTube video showing two men on a boat exchanging rings.
Media coverage of debauchery cases reproduces police statements. It is sensationalist and often includes images of men wearing makeup and women’s clothing, photos which were typically shared on dating applications and websites. The report suggests that the sensationalist intent of this coverage is clear given that great attention is paid to creating an impression of sexual scandal, but there is almost no coverage of acquittals or reduced sentences.
The language is demeaning, and presents those arrested as violent and a danger to society, with no consideration for protecting the identity of individuals. EIPR points to a number of cases where full names were published, or sufficient personal details to make defendants identities easy to find. The report notes that journalists are often allowed to be present during investigations. Another pattern that EIPR notes in the media coverage is the conflation of same-sex consensual sexual relations and sexual assaults committed by people against others of the same sex, whether adults or minors.
A proposed law to criminalize homosexuality is, Abdel Hameed says, an attempt to give the state license to crack down even further on consensual same sex relations. “The provisions of the law are so broad, for example it would be punishable by prison to advertise any sign of homosexuality, what does that even mean?” she said, adding. “One of our key arguments is that what they are doing is illegal, so there is an attempt to pass a law to make all of this legal.”