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Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 22:53 GMT
Egypt jails men in gay sex trial
suspects arriving in court
The defendants were arrested on a Nile boat
By Heba Salah in Cairo

An Egyptian court has sentenced 23 men to jail terms after a court found them guilty of charges relating to homosexuality.

An attempt to put on the show of a fair trial was missing

International observer
The two main defendants, who were sentenced to five and three years hard labour, were also convicted of exploiting Islam to spread extremist ideas.

Another 29 men were acquitted.

The verdicts of Egyptian state security courts are final which means that the 23 convicted men will not be able to appeal against their sentences.

The case had drawn criticism from international human rights groups who said the men were being tried for their sexual orientation.

Homosexuality is not a crime under Egyptian law, but the men had been accused of practising debauchery, a charge normally used in prostitution cases. All denied they were homosexuals.

Pleasure cruise

Over half of the men were arrested in May aboard a pleasure boat moored in the Nile off an affluent Cairo area where there are five-star hotels and embassies.

Cairo at night
The men were arrested at a floating nightclub
The Queen Boat was known as a popular gay venue, though it was also frequented by a heterosexual clientele.

Many of the defendants, however, were not taken from the boat.

Some said they had been picked off the streets of Cairo, and a few were arrested at their homes.

Some of those on the Queen Boat told journalists that the prosecution had refused to hear the testimony of female companions who were there when the arrests took place.

Courtroom confusion

There verdict was delivered amidst a heavy security presence with scores of policemen armed with batons stationed inside and outside the courtroom.

Total confusion reigned, however, after the judge left the courtroom having delivered the verdict in a soft voice that could not be clearly heard.

As he spoke there was also constant banging on the doors of the room by a large crowd of people who were not allowed in. They included most of the defendants lawyers and their relatives.

Manacled and crammed in a cage to the side of the courtroom, tearful defendants shouted that they could not tell whether they had been convicted or acquitted.

Some begged journalists to try to find out for them.

Little public sympathy

A representative of an international gay rights group at the trial condemned the trial as unfair.

"An attempt to put on the show of a fair trial was missing," said Scott Long, programme director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Egyptian human rights groups had distanced themselves from the whole affair for fear that the authorities would use their association with the gay cause to discredit their work on political cases.

There is little public sympathy for the men in Egypt where homosexuality remains a social and religious taboo.

Some analysts believe the authorities chose to pursue this prosecution as a way of demonstrating that it is not is not just the Islamist opposition which is concerned about morality.

Another message, they say, is that state security courts are not just reserved for the Islamists who are almost always tried there.

See also:

15 Aug 01 | Middle East
Anger over Egypt gay trial
15 Aug 01 | Middle East
'Extremist' gay trial resumes in Egypt
18 Jul 01 | Middle East
'Extremist' gay trial opens in Egypt
24 Jun 01 | Americas
Muslims step out at Gay Pride
08 Jun 01 | Middle East
Protest at Egypt 'gay detentions'
01 Apr 01 | Middle East
Dubai closes club after gay night
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