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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 17:10 GMT
Sir Elton joins Egypt gay protest
Sir Elton John
It is not Sir Elton's first public intervention over gay rights
Sir Elton John and the actors Sir Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson have signed a petition protesting at Egypt's treatment of homosexuals.

Euro MP and one-time TV actor Michael Cashman organised the protest, which is also being supported by comedians Eddie Izzard, Graham Norton and Maureen Lipman.

We cannot bankroll human rights abuses

Michael Cashman
The campaign asks for the Egyptian Government to set free 23 men given prison sentences for the "habitual practice of debauchery" after they attended a boat party in Cairo.

The so-called Cairo 52 case has already attracted criticism from French President Jacques Chirac.

The petition is to be handed over to the Egyptian ambassador to the European Union on Tuesday.

Michael Cashman
Cashman: In EastEnders before his political career
Mr Cashman, a Labour Euro MP, called on the EU to suspend a trade and aid agreement with Egypt if Cairo failed to pardon the men, or grant them an appeal in the case.

He described November's jailings, after a trial of 52 men, as a "flagrant example of persecution of homosexuals".

In a statement, he said: "If dialogue fails to achieve a resolution then we must cease aid and trade. We cannot bankroll human rights abuses.

"If we do nothing, then we condone these abuses of fundamental rights."

Sir Ian McKellen
McKellen plays Gandalf in Lord Of The Rings
And the former EastEnders actor threatened "a worldwide petition, rolling from country to country" if a satisfactory response was not received.

The men in the Cairo 52 case were tried by an Emergency State Security Court, after being arrested n a raid on the floating Queen Boat nightclub, known in Cairo as a popular gay venue.

The 23 men imprisoned received terms of between one and five years' hard labour, for charges including immoral behaviour and contempt of religion.

Homosexuality is not expressedly prohibited by law in Egypt - but is highly taboo.

In June 2000, Sir Elton John publicly accused Cardinal Thomas Winning, Scotland's most senior Roman Catholic, of ignorance over homosexuality.

The BBC's Shirin Wheeler
"These men were frightened to show their faces"
See also:

09 Feb 02 | Middle East
Fate of Egyptian gays worries Chirac
20 Nov 01 | Showbiz
McKellen attack over gay policies
14 Nov 01 | Middle East
Egypt jails men in gay sex trial
15 Aug 01 | Middle East
Anger over Egypt gay trial
18 Jul 01 | Middle East
'Extremist' gay trial opens in Egypt
08 Jun 01 | Middle East
Protest at Egypt 'gay detentions'
19 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Gay activists target Brits
15 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Sir Elton attacks Cardinal in gay row
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